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Gauging the Next ‘Golden Age’ of Journalism

We’re still mulling over remarks made last Friday in Lawrence, KS by ProPublica founder and executive chairman Paul Steiger. Accepting the prestigious William Allen White Foundation National Citation from the University of Kansas’s White School of Journalism and Mass Communications, he talked a lot about “golden ages” of journalism.

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According to Steiger, the last such era started in the mid-1950s and ran through the mid-1970s. Ergo, ending right around the time a massive amount of students were compelled by Woodward and Bernstein to head to J-school. Steiger takes issue with Henry Blodget‘s 2013 declaration that a new golden age is upon us. He says we’re perhaps close, but not quite there yet:

“Creating millions of lone-wolf, single-person bloggers doesn’t get us to a golden age. It can give us cat photos that make us giggle, news scoops involving an original fact or two, a trenchant analysis of finance or politics or sculpture, video of Miley Cyrus or Taylor Swift nuzzling their latest boyfriends, or possibly some movie and book reviews worth trusting. All nice to have but not game-changing.”

“If you’re going to reliably produce journalism that improves the world, maybe you don’t need a village, but you need some collaborators. You need lots of reporters. You need editors, data journalists, a lawyer.”

Steiger cited a second golden era of journalism dating back to the early 20th century; the subject of a fall 2013 book by Doris Kearns Goodwin. In this regard, he differs from a certain pair of former Newsweek editors, who dismissed the idea of bygone journalism golden ages when they spoke last summer in Maine. It’s also worth noting that at no point in this particular speech did Steiger mention the courageous citizen-journalism efforts of Julian Assange and Edward Snowden.

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