Seib (Campaigns and Conscience, not reviewed) examines the professional, commercial, and ethical pressures on the news media exerted by technologies that make the delivery of information both instantaneous and global.
The author worries about the news media’s pervasive preference for reporting events as they are happening: “Going live,” he says, “is exciting and dramatic. But is it good journalism?” His answer, of course, is primarily negative. Unfolding news is news that by definition has not emerged from an editorial process and thereby makes difficult if not impossible the application of the standards of impartiality that have long been the hallmarks of principled journalism. A number of Seib’s questions are patently rhetorical—e.g., “Should emphasis on speed of delivery override judgments about relevance and taste?” Nonetheless, he raises enough serious questions about the rapidly changing news business to sober anyone but Matt Drudge (who appears throughout as a sort of cyber-bogeyman whose gleeful disregard for traditional journalistic ethics Seib finds most reprehensible). One of the author’s principal objectives is to outline the concept of “convergence”—what he considers the inevitable fusion of print, cable television, and Internet news media. He sketches the obvious advantages to consumers of this imminent merger (improvements in “interactivity” and in the dissemination—via online links—of vast amounts of supplementary information) but warns that editorial discretion must play a more prominent role than it currently does among electronic news outlets. He also identifies new responsibilities that citizens must assume in the information age. There is an occasional “gee-whiz” tone in much of Seib’s descriptions of the (unquestionably exciting) possibilities of online news. And current events sometimes undercut him, as well: He declares, for instance, that exit polling has become so precise in presidential elections that 1948-like embarrassments (Dewey Defeats Truman!) are no longer much of a worry.
An urgent and cogent (if somewhat breathless) reminder that journalistic ethics must attempt to keep pace with the explosive technological revolution.