The shocking tale of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung giving up its tradition of no pictures on the front page has gripped the pundits in Germany. Journalism in Germany is declining, the standards are being lowered, und so weiter und sofort as they say here in the Fatherland.
I have always thought pictures were dangerous to journalism. You know that one of the Afghan refugee girl with the haunted eyes on the cover of National Geographic? That was a bad call. And raising of the flag at Iwo Jima? What a load of tripe to even consider for placement on the pages of a newspaper.
Photojournalism has a provided some of the iconic moments of history. And God forbid you create a newspaper that (gasp!) more people would want to read. The BILD is of course awful, but the paper is a well known tabloid and it's cheap to buy too. I don't think the FAZ is falling into this category.
German newspapers are not quite in the position as American papers. It's a fairly literate population, but of course this is changing as younger readers turn to the Internet. But this change is slow, since unlike the U.S., Germany hasn't had a recent baby boom. The last one occurred when all the boys and men disappeared into the eastern and western fronts and never returned in 1945. So these people will keep things afloat, and quite healthy for many years to come.
Still, German publishers are turning to the web as in the U.S. A recent article the English edition of Der Spiegel 'The Perils of Online First' goes into detail about the efforts of newspapers to publish first on the web and neglect the print product, which is a bit like shooting themselves into the foot. Uwe Knüpfer is experimenting with an online publication in the Ruhr area of Germany but it's a hard sell. They too are searching for the holy grail of how to make journalism on the Internet financially sustainable, and hopefully lucrative in the long run.
The article I think neglects one perspective, and that is that journalism standards are not necessarily neglected on the web. I'm trying to think of a good example of when that happened, and they don't give one in the article. If anything, there are examples of great online journalism that involve interactivity and better explanations of our society and how it works. The NY Times is doing this, as well as the Washington Post. I'll give a nod to the Star Tribune as well, because they produced excellent work on the plight of Liberians in Minnesota, which made an impact on policy. Even Der Spiegel has wonderful online segments, most recently about the Baader-Meinhof gang and their reign of terror when they murdered politicians and important ministers.
I think the problem lies in that there is a generation of journalists - I would call them the Lost Generation - who are being taught journalism without understanding the ethics of online reporting because their teachers don't know either, and nobody is really talking about it. If they are, I haven't been made aware it. Journalism schools are putting emphasis on new media, which is good, but as far as I can tell, very little on what is right and what is wrong and what the obligations are. I don't pretend to have the answers.