Some curious conversations going on this week on the journalist/citizen journalist/blogger conundrum...a frightening turn of events at The Chicago Tribune....and some truly wise words on how newspapers can become hubs for all this new media without having to define who's a journalist and who isn't....
Let's first look at the old "Who's a journalist?" debate (it's getting almost to be a "Who's your daddy?" kinda thing...it's so absurd at times) Jeff Jarvis was at the RTNDA this week and blogged about a particular panel--where both Zadi Diaz and Amanda Congdon stated that they did not consider themselves journalists. Yet Terry Heaton (who was also on the panel) and Jeff like to insist that they are. What stuck out to me in Jeff's post was so very little about how the younger generation is teaching us what the news is supposed to be (which I believe is Jeff's argument) but the paternalistic tone Jarvis takes in his insistence that Diaz and Congdon are journalists. Why is it so important that someone *else* make up both Diaz and Congdon's minds for them on the matter? There is something horribly lopsided in this equation--the younger females being very clear on what they are doing, while the older men wanting to muddy the waters and tell the young women who they are (and, in effect, what they are doing in their respective jobs...)
Note 4/22/07Because Jeff has inisisted that he is insulted by my use of the word "paternalistic" in ref. to his post, I've gone back and re-read the post From Jeff's post regarding A &D's refusal of the term "journalist": "We’ve made it exclusive. We’ve weighed it down with pretense and presumptions and rules. We’ve made these women assume that being a journalists stops you from doing what they do. Beware." I still disagree with Jeff and believe he's not considering that the resason A & D eschew the word has nothing to do with his assumption. Perhaps the reason they eschew the term "journalist" isn't that it stops them from doing this or that. From many of the folks I know, it's not the term, but the idea that they know their own minds, and know why they are doing what they are doing more than any hem-and-haw over the term "journalist" Maybe it's that they know their minds pretty darned well and it's not any indimidation by any journalism elite--or preconceived notion of journalism--that makes them think otherwise.
Yet it's this kind of nonsense--that there is one older, more wizened group out there who can define for us what we're doing with our blogs, vlogs and pods, why we're doing it, and who we should be doing it for--that may be part of what's behind the Chicago Tribune's latest boneheadded move to launch a hyperlocal citizen journalism website. Why on earth does the management at the Chicago Tribune believe that they need something like Triblocal
All I see are people becoming unpaid pawns in a much larger war over what is and is not journalism. TV stations will ply us with come-ons to "harvest" our content....newspapers will trot out fancy "your news" sites so that we'll feel all responsible for feeding them our content....and what do we get out of the whole thing...
A giant nothing.
No, wait...maybe we'll actually get a "great job" pat on the butt for getting that scoop that they could no longer pay reporters and videographers to get.
But there's some wisdom out there...and it's coming from some really great people who understand that the people using media isn't about people becoming journalists on the fly. Rich Gordon writes that newspapers should try to build the best network, not the best destination. Rich has taken the whole "who's a journalist?" question and blown it apart. It's not about the journalism. The journalism call still be done by the paper. It's about how the paper becomes a hub for all the other smaller forms of "citizen journalism" that may be happening around it. Rich's post is a wealth of insight on the matter and must be read in full to really get what he's saying--and how it can be done.
Howard Owens (a guy who really *does* get both journalism and community) sums up Gordon this way: Newspaper managers have traditionally believed they needed to build “sticky” sites and try to capture people and pretend the rest of the web doesn’t exist. That is a strategy doomed to fail. Only by being part of the clickstream can you hope to succeed.
Exactly right. By tussling over who's a journalist and who isn't, both Newspapers and the Rabble get distracted and pulled into a useless argument that ends only in "I know what you are but what am I?" Newspapers should view the new media landscape like bloggers--choose who you want to link to, but don't insist they write the blogs *for* you. That's utter nonsense and to echo Owens' assessment, doomed to fail.
Further newspapers might want to consider what John Wilpers is doing with BostonNOW a new newspaper and website that will combine traditional and citizen journalism--but not the way it's been done. Rather, Wilpers plans to aggregate the feeds of blogs, not pay people to blog for them nor provide bloggers with a new blogging platform. Speaking with John last week at the New England News Forum he explained that they will be aggregating the short feeds of bloggers. If someone's interested they'll be able to click right over to the person's blog--not use the paper's site as a proxy nor as a full-feed reader. This is great! It keeps citizens autonomous and drives traffic to them. Likewise, the citizens can link to BostonNOW and drive some of their traffic back over to BN. This is a win-win social and news situation. The professional journalists won't be compromised (their articles will be in the paper and on the site too)and the citizen/non-professional "journalists"/bloggers/compulsive conversationalists will have their say too. You, the reader, will get to make the choice which one you want to read at what time.
Now, if this financial model can work, perhaps it will make monkeys out of those who feel they have to keep defining who the journalists are/aren't for the rest of us.
Update Howard Owens makes some important points relative to this conversation at his blog. A few questions were raised there that may end up blogged about again.
Journalism, citizen journalism, media, web 2.0, Blog, Blogs