Journalism: A faith in decline?

p mh 4Here are two items that I have wanted to share for some time and I keep forgetting to put them online as a pair. Of course, some would question whether they mesh, which is kind of the point. OK, if you have never read Jay Rosen's "Journalism Is Itself a Religion" essay, this would be a good time to do so. Click here and then get yourself something to drink and sit a spell. When you are done, you can move on to this Weekly Standard essay entitled "The Media's Ancien Regime: Columbia Journalism School tries to save the old order" by new-media evangelist Hugh Hewitt.

Now, there are journalism insiders out there who believe the Hewitt article is a bit on the snarky side. I thought it went out of its way to show respect to the principalities and powers in the world of journalism education, while still making it clear that the author thought they were tilting at some very old windmills.

The theme in this essay that most interests me, and links it to Rosen's text, is the claim that journalism is, for many people, a kind of substitute faith with its own rites, creeds, sins, scribes, icons, altars and holy priesthood. This image begins with the first words and continues throughout. I am stunned that Hewitt did not quote Rosen at some point.

To enter Columbia University's graduate school of journalism is to enter the highest temple of a religion in decline. A statue of Thomas Jefferson guards the plaza outside the doors, and the entry room is suitably grand. Two raised platforms proclaim the missions in bold gold letters: "To Uphold Standards of Excellence in Journalism" and "To Educate the Next Generation of Journalists." The marble floor tells you that the school was endowed by Joseph Pulitzer and erected in 1912 in memory of his daughter Lucille. A bronze quotation from Pulitzer's 1904 cri de coeur in the North American Review is on the wall:

Our republic and its press will rise or fall together. An able, disinterested, public-spirited press, with trained intelligence to know the right and courage to do it, can preserve the public virtue without which popular government is a sham and a mockery. A cynical, mercenary, demagogic press will produce in time a people as base as itself. ...

There is a new high priest in the dean's office on the seventh floor. ...

Pop open a second bottle of something and enjoy this essay, too.

So here is my question. Which journalistic religion is in decline? Is it the old faith of the American model of the press, with its creed of accuracy and balance, or the idealistic, advocacy faith of the "new journalism" that burst from the head of Woodstein during the holy days of the Watergate era? Have people lost faith in the new faith that said the old faith is out of date? Precisely who is in decline? Both? Neither?

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