Now It’s Your Turn Journalist

This article was inspired by an email conversation with Donnacha DeLong, and is a reply to the following articles:

I disagree with the idea that personal publishing on the web is a threat to journalism, and I also don’t think the increasing popularity of individual publishing could undermine the professional standards of journalism (in its broadest sense). However, the idea of personal publishing replacing the concept of media is totally absurd, indeed.

Illustration: The Web and The Journalism Notice that I use ‘personal publishing’ instead of citizen journalism, because calling blogs or podcasts the pieces of journalism would really blur and question the characteristics, values and qualities of professional writing and production.

Increasing availability of the internet has made writing and publishing in general more popular than it has ever been. The more people explore what other individuals have published, the more they want to try it themselves. It is reasonable that a person who wouldn’t have had a possibility to reach thousands and thousands of likeminded people, is now considering their efforts of actually writing/drawing/recording something worth while. The opportunity of earning some money while doing it even adds to the motivation.

What Does the Web Have to Offer?

Many people who publish something on the web today might have a far greater expertise on various niche topics than an average industry expert/reporter working in a newspaper staff. Equally those individuals most often don’t have the composition and writing skills of a trained journalist, who has the knowledge and practice of good writing. It is tough to be a professional journalist and it takes a lot of time and effort to become a good one. Somebody who writes 600 words per week will rarely achieve the quality of professional journalists and editorial teams.

However with cameras and video capable phones dropping into almost everyone’s pocket, all the events around the world are continually witnessed and captured. This is where crowds and individuals matter to those who try to understand, explain and analyse the events. The connectivity and wakefulness of this social place called planet Earth is what matters to journalism.

Some may argue that a lot of important stories are covered in greater depth by bloggers than by traditional newsrooms. And it’s true. However, the keyword here is ‘important’, because importance of any story is very different to each of us. A biology professor might find time to write about the ethics and development of stem cell research on a blog which will be read and appreciated by many of those who are interested in sciences. But how could this professor threaten science journalism in general?

Journalism is about gathering, filtering, verifying and presenting the information.

Do you really think that many freelance field “experts” will replace fulltime journalists and there will be only teams of “editors” who collect articles, photos and videos from those individual publishers/bloggers? If so – what about ethics and responsibility of a journalist, what about ensuring valid and trustworthy sources of information? Crowds can’t be held responsible for one or another opinion. Crowds are useful for collecting information, while editors and professionals are required to filter, verify and present it in a way that people have expected and loved to receive from professional journalism.

Look at the Wikinews – there are only around 10 news links for October 27. The whole front page is a complete mess. Crowds are simply incapable of organizing information; crowds can’t prioritize.

Journalists should view the web as a source of information, like a perfectly indexed phonebook of experts who may often be the most knowledgeable in their field because of the work they have published. A decision on one’s authority is exactly what journalism is responsible and respected for. It is a false perception that publications on the web intrinsically have less authority.

Web becomes the media only when the published information is perceived by a person who can further reflect on it. And the rest of the web is reference material. However, journalism is so much more than a reference material.

The Public Perception of the Web and Journalism

The reasons why an old time (in a good way) editorial staff is worrying about the web as a threat to professional journalism are easy to imagine. However it also seems that an average citizen has an perception of the cool new thing called ‘web 2.0’ being somehow superior or able to replace articles, photos and videos that they are currently getting from papers and TV – be it news or entertainment.

Reporters who try to explain the web in ‘traditional’ media lack critical analysis of what the web actually is and how it can be good for public. Few articles are about what the web can’t do while there are plenty of those full of jargon and buzzwords.

It is a matter of informing general public that internet and its participants are not in competition with journalism, although it has been portrayed in such a way by many publications in print, TV and radio.

Who is to blame for such blatant ignorance and lack of critical writing? Believe it or not, but it is the ‘traditional’ journalism itself. A Great deal of fault with popularizing this type of message lies on those who write about the web 2.0 and do it with no knowledge of what the power of crowds actually is and is not.

It’s up to you, Journalist – only you can change the public perception of journalism and its importance. There is little of what labour unions can do to increase the demand for journalism, but there are myriad opportunities for making journalistic values important also on the web.

Endnote: I also think that the term ‘web 2.0’ is very bad. The previous article What is Wrong with the Tech Journalism explains why.

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