Friday, April 20, 2007

A Journalist by Any Other Name

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'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.

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Unknown said...

Tish, my belief that Amanda and Zadi are journalists flows not from paternalistic navel gazing but from the act that they perform. This isn't about any sort of rules, only that a journalist is a keeper of a journal. That the professional crowd hijacked the term doesn't mean it should be definition number one in the dictionary.

In the first three verses of the book of Luke, Luke writes this:

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write {it} out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus;

Luke was a journalist, and so are Amanda and Zadi.



Tish Grier said...

Hi Terry,

Actually, the "paternalist" comment was a poke at Jeff ;-) Yet beyond my nudging Jarvis is the point that each of these individuals knows exactly what they are doing and don't believe it is journalism.

And perhaps no one should be defining it for them.

I think it's important for them to make this distinction on ethical grounds. If they are journalists, then Amanda taking money from DuPont (or anyone else) for endorsements becomes problematic. Yeah, we can say that David Brinkley was "on the take" from ADM, but we'd have to prove that one. And yeah, we could say that Bambi Francisco taking money from a friend's company and then writing about the company was indeed a breech of journalistic ethics--but she "resigned." In Amanda's case, if she is clear that she is not a journalist, then it becomes not just a question of why ABC News hired her in the first place (maybe because Amy Poehler was still under contract?) but if she has to to disclose at all.

The ethical argument also plays out in the marketing sphere. Is she a word-of-mouth marketer (given her social media status)? and if so, then she would have to disclose her DuPont connections.

but that's different than whether or not she is a journalist.

Naturally, a move towards more transparency among any of us who out here in the media landscape would, over time, simply compel people to disclose. Yet I don't have such faith in human nature to believe that all would be willing to be so transparent.

I don't mind being transparent (about most things--some are TMI) but I certainly don't think of myself as a journalist, even though some have pointed out to me my random acts of journalism (and do like to kid me about them.) For me, the journalism I do is a product that is processed with the help of others, with an intention to convey information (not strictly to entertain--or entertain in the process of conveying information...)

Are the old Mondo movies then journalism?

I do have to agree with you about Luke being a journalist. So were Matthew and Mark. John, however, could be seen more as a raconteur and "visionary." But was Pliny the Younger, a witness to the destruction of Pompeii, a journalist or an historian when he describes the destruction?

Ah, perhaps, when this is all history, the words will be relative...

Anonymous said...

Maybe there should be an online game... journalist or not?

Amanda Congdon, Andy Rooney
Keith Olbermann, Bill O'Reilly
Jon Stewart, Art Buchwald
Larry King, The View
Perez Hilton, Page 6
Tim Russert, Geraldo Rivera
Jim Lehrer, Jim Cramer
Michelle Malkin, Daily Kos
Michael Totten, Kevin Sikes
Bob Woodward, Josh Marshall
George Stephanopoulos, Ze Frank

Unknown said...

And why poke? It's not paternalistic at all and I resent te sexual politics you've entered into the debate here and in my comments. Can't we just talk about the structure? Ive long, long since argued for the need to create a network, not a destination. I have also long said that I won't define journalism by who does it but by the act; anyone can perform that act of journalism. My point in Las Vegas was not about whether Terry or I or anyone else would, could, or should grant Amanda and Zadi or anyone else the title of journalist -- again, I find it rather meaningless in an era when anyone can perform an act of journalism -- my point was that they rejected it and I wanted to examine what that says about the title and what people who hold it have done to that title. So before you go attacking and poking at me, why don't we first have a civil conversation about the ideas? And we can have another good discussion about hyperlocal, which -- after much experience in trying and failing to build various hyperlocal models -- I believe needs to be a hybrid: Some peoplel will create their own, some will want to contribute to group sites and we need a network infrastructure to elegantly organize all that. Or is that just paternalism.

Tish, I am insulted at your poke.

Tish Grier said...

Jeff...first, a poke is not an attack. and there are lots of other people who go on the warpath vs. you more often than I do...

So, if you want to have a conversation about this, then let's have one. I'll send you the phone number, or we'll plan a lunch next time I'm in NYC. We've met before. You know I'm a rather civil and charming person f2f, even if I vehemently disagree with you...

Then again, in the grander scheme, who am I other than just some very small potatoes out here....

But take a look again at the dynamic--both Amanda and Zadi were very clear on their positions. You, again, were insisting that their positions on their own work was incorrect. Paternalistic? Yes. The Father Figure telling all who is and is not a journalist.

Maybe you don"t see yourself that way but there"s a heck of a lot of people who do

We've got to begin to consider the effects of these kinds of arguments--because the arguments are going to hurt a lot of people, both in the newsroom and out of the newsroom.

And the ethical relativisim doesn't help either.

This isn't about who's right or wrong, and it shouldn't be about compelling the people to take on the roles of journalists by hyping or guilting them into doing so. Which is a lot of what's happening now.

Hybrid models will eventually work best. So there, I agree with you. But as it is now, there are a plethora of models that appear to want to absorb the people for monitary gains rather than let them have their voices be heard. Then again, maybe it's not about being heard, maybe it's about just conversing with otheres....

One thing, though, you may not have thought about (and many journalists may not have either) is that some folks may want to do journalism as a hobby vs. a profession. Just like some guys like to build stuff on the weekends. They're not carpenters, but are carpentry hobbyists. Right now, though, among some, there is little tolerance for the journalism hobbyist. (but this is another issue...)

So, yes, Jeff. Paternalistic. And if you want to seriously talk about it, then let me know. Otherwise, I'm just hearing the usual lip-service.

Tish Grier said...

Brian...believe it or not, I once met a young author who was one of the credentialled bloggers at both conventions in '04. there were a number of folks who then insisted he was a journalist too. I stopped following his blog, so I have no idea how he resolved the connundrum for himself.

Then again, maybe he didn't want to solve it.

Your list, though, makes a good point. Sometimes who's a journalist is determined not by those on the inside, but those on the outside, observing what's done. Then, does journalism remain the same kind of "profession" when it's defined from the outside?

Unknown said...

I didn't insist that they were incorrect, damnit. You keep misinterpreting me. I was saying that I would readily label much of what they do journalism but that they reject that title and I was looking at what that meant.

Tish, I have these conversations in public and I have them civilly. I did not try to characterize you personally. You tried to characterize me personally for not good reason and I remain insulted. That's all the less reason for coffee, I'd say. I don't need to seek out insults. I'd suggest you look at your own language and think about putting this label on yourself.

Tish Grier said...


I had two different comments here responding to your post, but have rethought your response...

First, isn't it ironic that you re mentioning civility in light of your own reaction to Tim O'Reilly's Code of Conduct? Isn't it up to us to set our own standards?(fyi--I agreed with your position on O'Reilly) I rarely engage in invective,I don't feel that I need to, even if I'm still rather small. And you also know I'm not a card-carrying feminist who gets all upset over just about everything you say. Perhpas, then, what I said, while a poke, was also what I believe--that your tone in this case was way off...

Second, what I said was not incivil. To elaborate, I believe the tone of your post *was* paternalistic. The way in which you frame the argument--your inistence on who's a journalist and who isn't (and I read your post again)--is condescending. You don't make any mention--not even a nod--to the idea that people *can* make up their own minds In effect, though, you are doing what you accused O'Reilly of doing--wanting to make up people's minds for them on a matter they can decide for themselves.

Further I've read your own mis-characterizations of people's opinions. So, do we maybe have a case of pot meeting kettle (as you are fond of saying from time to time...)?