Daily Californian Column About Journalism’s Flaws Goes Viral

It is the come to Jesus column, the op-ed read ’round the world (wide web), and the most talked-about commentary in journalism circles over the past 48 hours. In a piece published Wednesday, Daily Californian senior staffer Mihir Zaveri at the University of California, Berkeley, seems to have tapped into an I’m-mad-as-hell fervor among journos about the current state of the news media.

Zaveri’s thesis: Forget advertising woes, Internet challenges, and economic ugliness. The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.

“All of that stuff is on us, the journalists,” he writes.  “It’s our fault.  Our job was to report the news, and we did that. But we got complacent, and we stopped evolving, and soon the concept of a news article became far removed from what you, as a person, valued.  Now we find ourselves in an awkward position where an indispensable component of democracy is slipping away, and we’re scrambling.”

The column is not any different from many other diatribes about journalism’s betwixt and between topsy-turvydom published in recent years.  Yet, it has blown up on Twitter and landed on blogosphere destination spots such as Romenesko+, launching Zaveri into a stratosphere of fame most student journalists never experience.  It appears Zaveri’s youth and idealism– and the backstory of the column emanating from a midsummer night of drinking– are the keys to its social media virility.

Within the piece, Zaveri writes with a refreshing earnestness and a behind-the-curtain honesty that makes you momentarily overlook the fact that he is essentially trotting out tired journalism 2.0 cliches about the need for greater transparency and public accountability and the sad decline of watchdog journalism.

In addition, it must be written that his three-step plan for reinvigorating journalism is, ahem, less-than-stellar.  It includes suggestions about holding public meetings to help gauge what is important and newsworthy among the populace (to be attended by crazies, those with an agenda, and the .02 percent of regular people who actually have time for such a thing) and only publishing pieces that come with “instructions on how you, as a resident of a democratic country, can make your life, your family’s life and your society’s life better.”  Hmm.

But while it falls short as helpful, its heart is in the right place and I do think it is a fairly accurate round-up of how other impassioned student journalists feel when they stare into their professional futures and consider entering the field.

In his words, “Journalism is in a dark time. But we can’t give up. We have to fight for relevance in your lives. We need to gain back your trust that what we’re doing is worth keeping alive . . . I don’t have all the answers. I just have too much angst and now finally a public outlet for it in the form of this column. What I can tell you now is it isn’t anyone’s fault but our own that we find ourselves in journalism’s epic predicament.  And what I can promise you now is I will try as hard as I can to make journalism important in your life again.”

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