Challenges of last decade make me wonder what’s next for news

We’ve started a new decade and, looking ahead, I expect the future to be challenging.

I say this reflecting back at how things have changed in our nation, even since I started in this business almost exactly 40 years ago. 

We all are aware of the financial difficulties dogging a lot of newspapers, as competition from all sides have depleted revenue streams. 

Many journalists are concerned about seeming threats to constitutional rights critical to doing our jobs. But other challenges have arisen as well in recent years. 

One for journalists has been increased concerns and restrictions in the privacy area. With the rise of social media and the internet, there’s been a corresponding concern about  “privacy rights” that has taken its toll on reporters’ ability to chronicle even seemingly mundane details. 

Twenty years ago, I rarely experienced people reluctant or refusing to give me their names after I’ve taken a photo of them at some public event. We experience it much more frequently now. We’ve chucked a lot of good pictures as a result. 

One biggie is the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, passed in 1996, which has severely impacted what I consider the community’s ability to have concern for victims of unfortunate circumstances. 

When was the last time you saw “so-and-so was listed in guarded condition at the hospital,” which used to be routine in news stories? The reason is, thanks to HIPAA,  hospitals have to have a patient’s approval to give out any health-related information. And they often don’t go out of their way to get it. It’s not their job. 

And with shrinking staffing in newsrooms, journalists simply don’t have the resources to make those extra calls and wait for hospital public relations staffers to get permission to report how “so-and-so” is doing. 

Technology can be a boon, but also a challenge. When I started out in this business, we used typewriters and land lines, and unlisted numbers used to be an occasional hurdle for journalists. Now, with cellphones, nearly everyone’s number is “unlisted.” Hence, we have to try to connect in other ways – social media, acquaintances of the person of interest, etc., sometimes simply to put a name on a photo. It’s time-consuming. Often, it’s fruitless. 

A lot of this is understandable. Social media have opened doors into our lives that aren’t always easy to shut. And now the Big Brother aspect of drones and satellites over our heads, cameras on seemingly every corner the ones in our computers and cellphones that, some worry, could be recording more than we want them to, have made a lot of people skittish. 

It may be undersandable, but it’s a challenge. 

And I wonder what life will be like in your local newsroom in another 10 years. It’s going to be interesting, I’ll bet.