Sunday, May 14, 2006

The Media World & Citizen journalism Beyond Broadcast

When I left Boston this morning, it was still raining. It had been raining pretty hard since I waded into Cambridge on Friday to attend the Beyond Broadcast conference. This two-day event, at only $50 bucks, was perhaps one of the best conferences I've attended in what appears to be a year of conference attending.

Lots of people wonder why I keep going to conferences--they wonder "what's the point?" Thing is, I'm kind of on a mission to learn as much as I possibly can about what's being said about the world of blogging and the internet. Going to conferences is, for me, like taking continuing education classes. The World of Cyberspace is a place we are going to have to learn to live and thrive in--and I want to be here.

Someone said to me (I think some Canadian guy--a producer of a current affairs show out of Ontario) that a lot of it is about the evolution of the individual--how we started to acknowledge the individual in religion and philosophy several hundred years ago, and it is no surprise that we would want to use media to express the self.

The internet combined with the wonders of self-publishing and cheap electronics is giving us a whole new medium of expression.

But we must be watchful--there are lots and lots of folks who are unhappy with this freedom and want to find ways to corral, commodify, and control it because they cannot see that this whole world out here--this new Wide Open Spaces, Wild Frontier--is where we may see a new step in our evolution...

James Boyle, law prof from Duke, who gave the keynote is one of the folks who can see that we are moving into a New World, and sees the threat to it. While he sounds the alarm that special interests influencing and moving the government to rule in their favor, he also sees that complete openness might not be the total answer. He deftly explained how even Open Source development has some checks and balances (very true!) and that this, not new laws, should be the model for governance Out Here. As he explained how Property Laws don't truly reflect the Intangible landscape of the Internet, I kept thinking of how, when our forefathers were drafting the Declaration of Independence, they changed "life, liberty and property" to "Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness."

Many of them knew how Property Laws in the Old Country kept them from getting educations and participating in government. Now, Old-style notions of property threaten innovation, internet commerce and opportunities of all sorts. (the video of Prof. Boyle's amazing keynote will be posted shortly)

The panels were stocked with individuals who are some of the best minds in their fields. I won't go into the panel details here, as you can find info on them at the Beyond Broadcast site....

What I do want to let y'all know about is the session on Citizen Journalism: Trust and Credibility that I was part of. Led by Dan Gillmor, this was the very first group at a conference that I attended that had a mix of journalists, bloggers, writers, activists, filmmakers, vloggers, etc. And because it was a mixed group, not all higher-ups from MSM, a lot of great stuff was said (we could've used a podcast.)

If y'all go thru the highlights posted on the wiki, you'll see how things evolved. There was, however, one point that stuck with me (and one that I talked to the Ontario guy about later on)--I was troubled by how the journalists in the room seemed to continually say "those bloggers" but never managed to mention names. There were, however, several of us in the room who could be identified as "those bloggers", including Lisa Williams of H2otown, a true citizen journalism blog on Watertown Mass, Andy Carvin of the Digital Divide Network, videoblogger Steve Garfield, prolific blogger, community admin and activist Shava Nerad.

However, I don't think the journos meant us. I think they meant another group of bloggers, and I remain amazingly curious as to who they believe are "those bloggers."

If the journos in the room were talking about the A-list--folks like Kos and Marshall and Atrios and Cox and Jarvis and such--then they're talking about folks who have been journalists (or lawyers.) In the case of journalists who are now bloggers, then the discussion of what they are doing is really a battle between different kinds of journalists not journalists and "bloggers" (if we agree beforehand that not all bloggers are journalists.)

Strangely, the Ontario guy later on asked me why I don't identify myself as a journalist since I work as an editor for Corante. I did walk around for a time identifying myself on my business card as a journalist, but when I found myself mingling with longtime journalists, I realized that this might be a bit foolish of me--that they wouldn't be able to google me and find anything but my blogs. I also didn't want to incur the wrath of those folks who have degrees who have far more opportunities than I to be journalists. It's a matter of academic degree and of opportunity.

I think though that there are differences between the European model of journalist and the American model of journalist. I've spoken with several folks from England and Canada who never studied journalism who are now doing journalism. Why, then, is there such a bias in America against those who are not properly professionally educated in journalism?

Yet as I sit here reviewing the Saturday discussion, what I marvel the most at is that I was able to be in a discussion with someone like Dan Gillmor. This was an amazing opportunity and priviledge and at times I'm left a bit speechless by it. I never thought that I would ever find myself in a room at Harvard, with Dan and so many other amazing people (listed above) discussing journalism, citizen journalism, and blogging...

This is a wonderful time in the world....


zenyenta said...

Thanks for the report. It's interesting to read about and you bring a human perspective that makes it easier to digest.

About journalism school...reminds me of my father-in-law. He was a copy editor. Started out of high school as a copy boy and retired as a senior copy editor of a major news service after almost half a century. He was not a journalist in the sense of creating a story, but he did have to make decisions all day long about what constituted the news, and he had a seat at the table in the news business for a long, long time. He took a dim view of the way things developed after people started coming in as journalism graduates and and going straight to writing instead of working their way through the organization from the bottom. He was probably being a little reactionary as is natural when you're an old timer in any field. But he's still a very smart man today at 88.

Tish Grier said...

hi z-y.....

i like writing up reports of conferences specifically to give them a more human, unvarnished, non p-r spun perspective. blogging/media conferences are intersting critters. just wait to see what I have to say about the IDG Syndicate conference (boy! I hope I get to bug Jeff Jarvis again!)

Great story about your father in law! as I'm learning from all my reading about the newspaper business, there's so much more to it than just writing stories, and I'm not sure how much about finance and revenues and business is taught in journo school. When I look at programs, it's so similar to MFAs--alot of work on the craft of writing and little emphasis on how to make money with it.

Some longtime journo person (I wish I could remember who) recently said something about journo school grads wanting to go straight to the NY Times without ever doing anything else. It's very easy to feel precious about your work when you're in school...and a rude awakening when you hit the job market and find out it's not up to the standards of something like the Times.

Merrill said...

I wish both bloggers and journalists wouldn't be so...I guess the word is essentialist about each other. I was a journalist (mostly at an alternative weekly) for about 15 years. I have an undergrad degree in English. Later on, I got some grad degrees in journalism, and now I teach college journalism at a large urban university in the South. My students know they aren't likely to go on to the NYT. It's usually students at places like Missouri, Northwestern or a few other schools who have that attitude. Those schools have long-standing networks that hook students right into the top papers. My school doesn't. I'm delighted if my students find a job at a suburban weekly or a small-town daily. They have to start at the bottom, as I did. In fact, I never managed to get very far from the bottom. Which I like to tell myself is a good thing, but maybe it says some not-so-good stuff about me.

I learned journalism on the job, but I missed a few things, I must admit. It would've really helped me to have a course in media law, for instance, or media ethics, before I started being a reporter. Most journalism programs require these courses. I wish I could've taken a media literacy course, too, but those weren't offered back in the dark ages when I was an undergrad.

Nowadays, you need to know computer programs, such as InDesign or Photoshop, and HTML, and you should know how to shoot and edit video. We teach those kinds of courses. There's an awful lot of stuff journalism majors need to learn these days just to get a job. Some students can teach themselves, of course, but some kids don't have access to the software or computers.

The current thinking (and past thinking, as far as I know) in journalism education is that students should get a foundation in the liberal arts. So most journalism degrees require that you have a kind of minor, like history or English or political science, with required journalism courses added on.

A lot of schools offer an optional media management course, but most journalism professors haven't had to deal with finances much and don't teach that kind of thing. In the past, at least, it's been assumed that our grads will go on to work as employees of media companies and won't have to worry about it. Journalism doesn't tend to attract people who are focused on money, or at least it doesn't on my level. The students who want to make money go on to law school.

In my experience, most journalism students don't come out of school arrogant. That's learned in the socialization process at places like the NYT, where only the most mature and sensitive can resist being seduced by the belief that they're better than everyone else.

Arrogance hides fear sometimes. I think that's true for journalists and bloggers. A lot of journalists just don't "get" blogging. A lot of bloggers just don't "get" reporting.

But I think the real problem isn't journalists, bloggers, journalism schools, or this uncomfortable moment we're in when the rules seem to be changing, the attack dogs have been loosed (on both sides) and convergence appears to be upon us. The real problem for all of us is educating people to use and understand the media -- media literacy, in other words. What does it matter where people get their information if they aren't able to assess its accuracy and evaluate an argument? What will it matter who is writing on the Internet if it has been taken over by corporate interests? How do we teach people to understand and be critical of the role of media in their lives?

Sorry to go on so long, and I hope I don't sound too defensive, but as you see, I feel there are a lot of misconceptions out there about bloggers, journalists, journalism schools, and, especially, what's really important.

Tish Grier said...

Hi Merrill...

actually, your post was very informative and it's the kind of comment I really appreciate :-)

I like to open up discussion and hear other's experiences of the world, no matter what that world happens to be.

You make several good points about what a journalist needs to do these days, and it's alot more than just write. I recently read an editorial from the Miami Herald that talked about just that--I have it in another post and will be writing on it.

In many ways we seem to be asking alot more from journalists than we used to--and maybe more than one person can give. That's part of wht the MH editorial talked about--and talked about how asking a journlist to do all this other stuff might be taking away from more in-depth reporting.

I think when Dave Winer said that every kid should take Journalism 101 before gratduating, I think it could have been taken one step further--that media literacy should be taught before graduating. Then agian, in a world where kids have to pass comprehensive tests in order to graduate, I'm not sure how much time they have for media literacy (which is a shame)

I am often troubled by the gulf that seems to exist between journalists and bloggers. I was talking with Vin Crosbie today, who thought there was a false dichotomy between the two. For the bloggers who are more journlistic, he's got a point.