In the wake of a flurry of international events, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist said in a lecture Thursday that while reporting mediums are quickly evolving to include emerging forms of social media, print journalism is not a dying field.
Sheri Fink addressed members of the University of Wisconsin campus community to lend her personal experiences reporting in the field that demonstrate the media’s ability to impact the public.
Real power remains in the pen, Fink said, and journalists have the unique ability to do good or harm in situations of international conflict with their reporting efforts.
Fink spoke about her time spent in Bosnia during the revolution and her coverage of the aftermath and rebuilding efforts in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
She said these experiences demonstrated the scope of influence journalists are able to exert on both local and broader perceptions of events.
Fink also said journalists generally care deeply about their coverage, particularly after witnessing emotional events first-hand, and that this dedication is a deeply personal experience.
The people that work on news stories are passionate about them, and it is a common misconception that journalists are an inconsiderate group, she said.
She also addressed the complex ethical issues of whether a journalist should care about the impact his or her coverage may have.
All writers should pursue complex and difficult stories, Fink said, but journalists must remain vigilant of how their work may impact their general audience, who now receive coverage in a more timely manner than ever as a result of social media tools.
“Journalism is still about connection and connecting with people. We now have the benefit or curse of instant news,” Fink said. “Social media, such as Twitter or Facebook, have definitely changed the way news is brought to the average person.”
Fink added while social media has afforded journalists the ability to broadcast breaking or extremely timely content directly to the target audience, writers do not always maintain the same sensitivity in these reports as they do in more traditional forms of reporting.
She also said she does not believe journalism is a dying profession, but rather one in transition. She said some parts of journalism or communication are vibrant, and it is the responsibility of a new generation of writers to continue to make it its own.
These new and emerging forms of media, she said, continue to play an interesting and significant role in current conflicts, particularly in the recent demonstrations and revolutions in Cairo.
UW journalism professor Deborah Blum said forms of social media like Twitter can play an active role in shaping world events, as was evidenced in Egypt and even here in Wisconsin, as protesters railed against the governor’s budget repair bill.
Despite these advantages, she agreed with Fink that social media will never serve the same purposes as traditional journalism.
“Media like Twitter will never replace what the traditional media does best, and that’s connecting with people who don’t have the tools to ‘tweet,'” Blum said. “Traditional news will always be better at putting pieces together to create whole stories.”