GOSHEN -- After NPR's Brooke Gladstone spoke about the future of news, someone saw a couple of reporters there and asked, "How well did the media cover the media?"
Fair question. After all, how do you write about an industry that research says fewer people are paying attention to in a way that keeps them from reading a blog instead?
Here's a try.
The mainstream media -- once a monolith represented by authoritarian voices like Walter Cronkite -- are shattering into countless online news portals, blogs, cable channels and print publications, Gladstone said.
It's a confusing time to follow the news, but it's also what people want, she said. They want choices. They want different voices, different opinions and different ways of learning what's going on.
"It's a caveat emptor thing. You have to choose your news coverage the way your choose your health plan," said Gladstone, host of "On the Media." She kicked off Goshen College's conference, "Tuned out? Young people and the future of news media."
Fake-newsman Jon Stewart of "The Daily Show" is more trusted by young people than actual anchors because he's upfront with how he feels, Gladstone said. He talks directly to the audience, letting them know when he's upset or amused by a story.
Young people with high-speed Internet access got more of their news during the last presidential campaign online than anywhere else. Bloggers covered things the mainstream media didn't and called them out for it.
This isn't a bad thing, Gladstone said.
"Are the mainstream media broke? Well, kinda," she said. "Perhaps we needed to be humbled. We're supposed to tell the truth to power, but as we became too powerful, people told the truth to us."
People are suspicious of the media acting omniscient, with reporters and anchors presuming to tell the whole story all the time.
Gladstone quoted CBS News President Andrew Heyward, who wrote last year, "We have to abandon any claim to omniscience."
"Walter Cronkite used to end his broadcast with 'That's the way it is.' Dan Rather pulled that back, appropriately, to 'That's part of our world tonight.' The digital journalist, if he or she were being honest, would say something like 'That's some of what we did our best to find out today,' Heyward wrote.
Gladstone reminded the audience that the idea of "objectivity" in reporting is relatively new, taking root here in the mid-20th century. Losing that doesn't mean losing a commitment to facts and accuracy, but regaining a commitment to being passionate and interesting.
In her case, it means interviewing people and telling them when she doesn't buy their answers. It means letting listeners in on her thoughts without taking sides each week.
"We allow the people to see who we are, hopefully not in a grandstanding way that gets in the way of providing information," she said. "If they know who we are and how we feel about things, they can adjust their expectations accordingly."
I asked afterward what print reporters can do, since readers don't see our face or hear our voice. I told her I didn't want to spout off my own opinions, because I didn't think readers cared.
She said we should write to readers in interesting ways, telling them stories and talking to them instead of at them.
If she's right, and that's what readers want, you'll see much more of that to come.
Contact Thomas V. Bona at firstname.lastname@example.org.