Professor Robert Jensen speaks about the future of media
Robert Jensen, professor in the College of Communication's School of Journalism, presented "Journalism is Dead! Long Live Journalism?" through the University of Texas at Austin's Continuing and Innovative Education program on May 16. More than 100 people filled the Thompson Conference Center to hear Jensen's free lecture.
In this lecture, Jensen spoke about two crises in modern journalism: a professional model that has failed to create a truly democratic news media and a business model that is no longer viable in the digital age.
Beginning with a caveat that he was not pushing or retreating from religion, Jensen explained the journalism crises by drawing parallels to royal, prophetic and apocalyptic Judeo-Christian traditions.
Mainstream U.S. journalism, Jensen said, could be defined as royal journalism. Concentrating on the wealthy and powerful, royal journalism dispenses pious platitudes instead of dealing honestly with polices that help the elite. It obscures as much as it reveals, reinforcing the powerful. It also leads people to numbness, especially about death.
Jensen said royal journalism is a reflection of the following three cultural factors:
- National fundamentalism – a belief in the country's inherent right to rule
- Economic fundamentalism – a belief that any challenge to mass consumption should be challenged
- Technological fundamentalism – a belief that high-energy technological solutions can remedy any problem
"We're competent enough to implement almost anything, but we can imagine almost nothing outside of the defined framework," Jensen said. "Our task is to envision a different type of journalism that helps us come into a right relationship with ourselves, others and the ecosphere."
Like the Biblical prophets, Jensen said, journalists need to cut through society's numbness and despair by naming what is already happening.
"They did not predict the future, but they were ordinary people who stepped out to condemn corrupt leaders and other societal shortcomings," Jensen said of the Biblical prophets. "It takes no special status in society to be a prophet except for honesty and courage."
In addition to being honest, Jensen said journalists should speak from a position of independence rather than neutrality. Remaining neutral, he said, keeps journalists within boundaries set by the powerful and prevents them from critiquing problems or writing about people on the margins of society.
If people ignore prophetic journalists' warnings about increasing national debt or other societal crises, then apocalyptic journalism would be the next logical step. Rather than being about the end of the world, apocalyptic journalism is about the end of systems – for example, ecological – that have defined America.
Apocalyptic journalism moves beyond failure and offers solutions. Examples of apocalyptic writing include Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" and Bill McKibben's "Eaarth: Making Life on a Tough New Planet," which offer inspiration for living in a damaged world.
"We can't solve problems by simply tinkering," Jensen said. "But the dominant culture is not ready to engage these questions."
Instead of always practicing within the traditional corporate model, Jensen said journalists also should think of ways to use public money to create the kinds of stories society needs.
"It won't be easy in a royal consciousness culture, but everything is hard these days and telling the truth is a source of inspiration," Jensen said.
He also advised journalists to build communities and think about new ways to communicate.
Jensen joined the UT faculty in 1992 after completing his Ph.D. in media ethics and law in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota. Before his academic career, he worked as a professional journalist for a decade. At the College of Communication, Jensen serves as director of the Senior Fellows Honors Program and teaches courses in media law, ethics and politics.
To view the entire speech, visit http://vimeo.com/42549214.
Nick Hundley, (512) 471-7209