Turning inner space into outer space

August 21, 2014

What I know about Jim Foley gives me hope

Jim Foley

Before he was beheaded by extremists in Syria, I had never heard of journalist Jim Foley. But having worked with journalists most of my life, I feel like I know a little bit about him.

For example, most people might think he was crazy to risk his life reporting from a war zone, a place where barbarism has become the norm.

Maybe. More likely he was an idealist with a streak of eccentricity. I’m thinking he was someone who believed the world is a better place if we can act and live out our lives based on knowledge — as much as that’s possible — of what’s really going on. He was willing to go to great lengths to carry out that belief. Maybe he was a little bit crazy, but we owe a debt of gratitude to people crazy enough to help us better understand what’s happening around us.

It’s because of people like Foley that I have greater confidence than ever that journalism will survive and thrive well into the future.

This is in spite of recent articles like the one by U.S. writer Clay Shirky who again sounds the death knell for newspapers. And in spite of the fact he has some good points. For example, it’s only a matter of time before newspapers lose their flyer business to some Internet equivalent — just as they lost the bulk of classified ads.

This will be particularly hard on free-distribution newspapers that depend heavily on the selling point of blanket coverage. Even so, the death of newspapers will not mean the death of journalism.

Determined journalists will simply find new ways of funding their passions.

A case in point is the crowd funding partnership between Huffington Post and Beacon Reader to pay and train a citizen of Ferguson, Missouri, to be a journalist for a year in this city torn by racial strife after a police officer shot and killed an unarmed teenager.

From Huffington Post:

Local resident Mariah Stewart has been covering the Ferguson protests as a citizen journalist with the support of readers through Beacon’s platform. With HuffPost readers’ support, we can make sure Stewart can continue her work.

The Beacon Reader is itself a great idea. You pay $5 a month to support the writer of your choice and get access to all the content.

I’m not saying this is some sort of golden path forward for journalism, but it does demonstrate that innovation is by no means dead.

Of course, some journalists have pointed out that Huffington Post should go ahead and actually hire a full-time reporter (with benefits!), and is instead using a gimmick to cheap out.

But what did you expect? Idealists with a streak of eccentricity seldom agree.

Image Credit: The Associated Press