Journalism has changed forever. It will never be the same again.”
In many words, the Columbia Journalism Review editor set the tone and nudge for the key editorial he wanted me to write in his next edition. Like many Americans, he was reeling from the astonishing terrorist attack on the United States a few days earlier. The country was in shock: everything seemed to be turned upside down, including the journalism that he had practiced throughout his career. In the chaos that followed 9/11, he was sure of only one thing: the way news was reported would never be the same again.
Almost immediately, I knew we had a big problem: I didn’t get along with him. In my view, the terrorist attack will undoubtedly have a significant impact on the country’s domestic and foreign policies. It would be, in journalistic jargon, a “big story,” the kind that generated Pulitzer Prizes, but the primary reason journalism exists – to report without hesitation about these changes, and to continue to tell the truth to power, no matter how controversial it may be. The case – it will not change with the attack. The vehemently surprised CJR editor opposed, saying I’m missing the main point: that the country’s essential institutions, including the press, had already been altered by the attack. No doubt about it, he insisted.
Now, 20 years later, a luminous contradiction has come into focus: The editor was right, but his reasoning was wrong. The press has indeed changed, but not because of 9/11. By the time foreign terrorists attacked the mainland United States, the press was already in the midst of a sweeping communications revolution that was transforming the industry. Eye-opening new technologies have erupted, radically changing its economic and financial infrastructure; A new group of personalities with competing political visions and goals began to occupy the airlines and dominate the headlines; Serious questions were raised about whether “journalism,” the only industry protected by the First Amendment to the US Constitution, could fairly and faithfully cover the historical changes dividing the country from one another.
From the ancient world of paper journalism, pencil and typewriter came the thundering hoof beats of the Internet, social media, Facebook, Twitter, and the many offspring of new technologies. These changes were so rapid and so great that the press itself began to search for a new definition of its central goal – ‘Is it now supposed that to make News, or just cover, cover He-she?” Many baffled journalists when comparing Fox News to the Washington Post, for example, wondered whether their audience knew the difference between barely persuasive propaganda and serious and substantial news. And even if they did, whether they would care. In this deceptive madness Suddenly everything everywhere became accessible to everyone; notions of distance and time disappeared; and traditional journalistic ethics and standards became seemingly strange treasures from a lost past.
The press, in its pre-revolutionary attire, has bravely tried to be objective in its coverage of foreign news. But although this effort may sometimes fail, it has been the norm for most journalists. However, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the healthy skepticism that was normal in most American newsrooms suddenly became a rare commodity. A surge in old patriotism has begun to taint coverage of the Bush administration’s response to terrorist attacks. Accepted as fact, even by experienced journalists, were “deep background” warnings about Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s hidden “weapons of mass destruction”, which were then published, unchecked, on the front pages of the national press.
Also, in a number of broadcasting studios, one cannot help but notice the presence of sports American flags on the lapel. The reporters wanted very much to be seen as supporters of America’s war against global terrorism. CBS anchor Dan Rather, who did not wear an American flag in the lapel, later talk about “A fear in every newsroom in America…a fear of being labeled, unpatriotic or otherwise.”
After 9/11, new technologies also had a transformative effect on the way foreign news was covered. Enter the age of the highly revealing “ecosystem”, where the unidentified and unfiltered news circulated via cell phone or WhatsApp tempted everyone’s appetites and needs, and night journalism has leaped into a new phase of its ever-changing world.
A remarkable series of uprisings and political revolutions erupted in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. Serving as a catalyst for political change, the intrepid cell phone quickly gained the formidable power of the tank. Held above the heads of disaffected activists, it was transported into a world awaiting the images, sounds, and drama of revolutionary change. Inflate reality, and sometimes create reality. It also served as an essential tool for communication, mobilizing both allies and sympathetic observers, and transforming what would have been a manageable display of unhappiness into an explosive rebellion. Without the cell phone, the connection to Twitter and Facebook, the local skirmish will likely remain an isolated story, one day making headlines and then disappearing, lacking the explosive power multiplier of the internet to inspire a mass movement.
The cell phone, in the hands of a cunning activist with a murderous complaint but without a budget, became a very important tool for the revolution, drawing the journalist’s attention to any outburst of pain on a street corner, providing editors and providers of “big” support that day. Story.” Whether in New York or Tehran, all the news workers were instantly connected to the story, an excited part of the evolving drama. Now the global challenge was to speed up the story on air or in print. Speed was of the essence.
In the old days, the process of reporting a story was usually the result of “collect, sort, report” – in that order. First, I collected the information. Then, you sorted it, which means you checked the facts and edited the copy. And only then did you communicate the story to the public. In the new age, I flipped the sequence. You have now collected and reported immediately, no sorting, editing or proofreading required.
Journalists operated by this questionable but generally accepted standard, covering the revolutions of the early twenty-first century. In Arab capitals after another, the mating of new technologies to widespread political grievances triggered a sudden wave of “spring”-like popular discontent, bringing down regimes and igniting a misconception that democracy was replacing authoritarianism in the Arab world. Within a few years, the happy hopes of Cairo’s Tahrir Square had crumbled, replaced by the harsh reality of a tank reimposing authoritarian constraints.
But in Ukraine, in 2014, the opposite was true, where workers and students, who used the cell phone mostly to organize, coordinate and inspire change, had toppled a corrupt pro-Russian regime and established a shaky but independent government. Struggle for political and economic stability and international acceptance and support.
The press, shaped by new technologies, has become the ubiquitous companion to politicians, revolutionaries, democrats, and dictators everywhere. The games they play, the revolutions they generate, the bread and butter stories that still capture the journalist’s attention.
The events of 9/11 were one such story, big and important and devastating in its impact, but hopefully useful for the questions it raised to the nation. One such question revolves around the increasing politicization of the media, exacerbated by former President Donald Trump’s persistent criticism of the journalist as an “enemy of the people,” a topic both wrong and dangerous, but widely embraced by his conservative followers. For them, Fox News represents the “fair and balanced” truth, and The New York Times, for example, represents an unacceptable mixture of lies and liberalism. This division severely complicates the central responsibility of the journalist, which has not changed despite the strong effects of 9/11 on this country. In my opinion, the American journalist remains at his best when they rise up to protect the ruled over rulers – who, let’s face it, sometimes judge on corrupt and flawed assumptions about how their power is used.