Spare a thought for journalists these days, the folk feeling particularly unappreciated as they face a barrage of public scorn on the one hand and panic-stricken managements pushing for cuts in salaries, rises in productivity, and even retrenchments, on the other.

They don’t want your pity. They’re seeking your respect — and your helpful answers to some of their questions about the future.

Journalists under siege

For sure, professional reporters are not saints deserving of hero-worship. But they don’t deserve to be dubbed a closed priesthood interested only in preaching to the masses and keeping lay-people out of the profession. That’s an unfair and highly caricatured criticism.

The point is that, even despite the many sins of the profession, journalists have sustained a form of public communication crucial for a level of democracy in countless countries — and the underlying industry still has a long run for underpinning this in the developing world.

For too many journalists around the world today, the biggest threats are still governments, soldiers and crooks (sometimes one and the same entity). But everyone also knows that increasing numbers of journalists are also threatened by changes in media economics — especially in the press in developed countries.

It should be of universal concern that the extant business model of newspapers is declining so fast in some places and is far from future-proofed in other countries. If there’s no newspaper industry ahead, from where is society’s journalism (warts ‘n all) supposed to come?

Reports of Journalism’s death greatly exaggerated

To the extent that people point to broadcast journalism, or to publicly subsidized media, it’s correct to say that a demise of newspapering is not equivalent to the end of journalism.

“A world without birds” was the subtext of the avian flu panic; “a world without journalism” is a similar hype right now.

On the other hand, it is definitely the case that without newspaper companies, there’s the serious prospect of a global shrinkage in journalism — and that’s a loss that can’t be made up for by all the world’s citizen bloggers, NGOs and live-streamed coverage of municipal meetings, etc. (as valuable as these are).

Despite this truth, wherever there are online articles (emanating from journalism) about the troubles in the newspaper industry, there are also too often also worrying comments bidding good riddance to the press. Never mind that the platform for expressing these views often wouldn’t even exist if it weren’t for the money made, ultimately, from institutions built upon professional journalism.

Fortunately, notwithstanding all the changes in journalism, the people with stakes in newspapers are not going to roll over and die. Nor, contrary to some claims, does their newfound zeal for experimenting with paid content models amount to a collective suicide pact.

Instead, there’s a lot of idealism that’s actively committing energy to keeping media-based journalism thriving.

Standing up for newspapers

There are also the directly vested interests of those who own, operate and work for media houses. And amongst these, a critical set of interests concerns those of the journalists themselves, and their representative organizations — their trade unions.

This is a constituency that’s fighting back — not, generally, to hold onto the past, but to ensure that their voices will help shape the future of journalism.

And they want your views to help them do so. To this end, the International Federation of Journalists has this week posted some 25 questions on their website. These emanate from a group that’s developing a report on the “future of journalism” for the organization’s 2010 congress.

Far from a siege mentality, journalists under economic threat today are showing an openness to ideas — and to collaborations with bloggers, foundations and general well-wishers.

Perhaps the pundits, managers, consultants — and critics — could pause a moment to respond to this approach from those working at the coalface.

Guy Berger is co-chair of the IFJ’s “Future Group” think tank, a group of ten journalism union leaders and academics from Canada, the UK, Australia, Brazil, Spain and Indonesia.