What is journalism?

What is journalism?
: Jay Rosen says that “starting off with definitions leads to what my teacher, Neil Postman, called ‘definition tyranny.’”

And that, Jay explains, is why he wants to separate the terms “journalism” and “blogging” to understand each other them. That’s what he was up to in his quickly controversial post last night. And so, he says, “the definition is something you get at the end of your inquiry rather than at the beginning.”

Jay — reprising something he said at the last Bloggercon — sees this like a scene out of Gangs of New York: two tribes marching toward each other and battle.

: Jay asks what is pushing blogging toward journalism. Chris Lydon says we do it for the same reason we bomb Baghdad: Because we can.

“And because there’s so much to say. There’s so much inadquacy of coverage… Bloggers feel aggrieved by journalism….”

So Jay summarizes so far: We have the tools; we have dissatisfaction; we find a voice.

Henry Copeland adds that partisanship will out.

Trisan Louis adds that the lack of objectivity of blogging balances the lack of objectivity of journalism.

(Dave Winer, parenthetically, says he’s not sure blogging is heading toward journalism; they’re separate things and blogging has elements of journalism. He says there’s a means of going right to sources and that’s still information; that, too, is journalism.)

Someone I can’t see says blogging is a medium without barriers.

: I add that blogging allows people to find and serve a public and in this medium of relationships and build a new kind of relatinship.

: David (Not Dave) Weinberger says that blogs allow you to care about — or demosntrate you care about — your world.

Yes, it is a way to take action.

It is a way to take leadership. (See also Britt Blaser’s Open Republic for that. It’s one of the tools for leading.)

: David Britten says blogging is heading toward a subset of journalism: op-ed. Bloggers don’t report.

David Winer says that the source material is there and we don’t need to compilation of journalism.

Well, there’s still a need for reporting. Most will come from those with the resources and backing to report. Some will come from citizen journalists.

Rebecca McKinnon gives a great example: It was a journalist who heard what Trent Lott said. But the journalist missed the significance of it. Bloggers saw that significance.

: Jeff Sharlet says blogs are a social gospel; they come out of a utopian view that they can change the world. They’re muckrakers. They muckrake the view within the facts.

“The old story is inadequate.”

Matt Stoller says that’s a matter of the narrative of news.

He says that bloggers don’t challenge reports; they challenge editors.

: Joshua Farber, a high-school teacher, says that he sees students “avoiding the media mechanism” and being more actively involved in their world.

Or to put it another way:

Life is a video game. We have the controller.

: Bob Wyman says that the question is what journalism is not.

It’s no longer having a tie to a printing press.

It’s no longer recording events; we have better recorders — e.g., video cameras.

So, he says, journalism focuses on timely selection in context for a sustained audience.

Nicely said.

So he says the key may be the sustained audience.

: C. Crossley (I think) says that journalism is its standards and practices in an ethical framework. Bob Wyman, next to me, is shaking his head, no. There’s assorted head-shaking in the room.

Rick Heller says he’d like to know what those standards are.

(I’d say that’s a plug for the Citizens’ Media Center!)

: Jay asks what happens to journalists when they blog.

Oh, boy.

Someone in the back says that blogging separates journalists from editors and the value of editing.

I believe that the readers are the editors now.

And I find that it’s difficult to work with editors that stand in the way.

: Another theme: freedom. Freedom of topic. Freedom of opinion. Freedom from editors.

They also gain risk.

“And they have to establish almost every day trust and a relationship with an audience,” says Jay.

Debbie Galant says that blogging also gives you a freedom of audience: You can write for a broader audience.

: Dan Gillmor says the transition was easy for him because he was a columnist. Rebecca McKinnon says that’s what made it difficult for her, at first.

She’s right. It’s exactly what I went through when I started writing a column.

: Jay says putting out a daily paper was called the Daily Miracle. To get it done, so many things have to be standardized: deadlines, methods, standards…

Without the necessity of getting onto the press, those rules disappear; freedom appears.

A man in the back says that without that, “the journalist is left naked… without the banner of the New York Times.”

Jay says, yes, the brand of the newspaper continues and new people can enter and “borrow that brand.”

Bloggers have to build their own.

: Jay says that “profound issues of freedom of speech are being raised for journalists in their own organization.”

: Gordon Joseloff of WestportNow says he only uses blogging software and does not call it a blog. He doesn’t put up his opinon.

Henry Copeland says people are “hungry for opinion… We are awash with objectivity.”

Jay says “objectivity was the de-voicing of journalism.”

Micah Sifry says “people are hungry for filters.” A columnist or a blogger can be “a trustable filter.”

[This conversation is working well because it adds up to good exchanges like this.]

: Jason Calacanis asks whether anyone has been sued. Robert Cox of the National Debate tells about his victory over The New York Times. Dan Gillmor asks him what it cost him. Bob says he got six law firms offering to represent him pro bono. The cost was in higher server traffic.

: Will Richardson, a teacher, says that in a world where everyone is an editor we need to help teach children how to be editors, how to discern.

Jay: “It’s easier to be an audience. Hard to be a public.”

: Tom Regan of the Christian Science Monitor: “The interaction between bloggers and journalists is the best thing to happen to journalism in a long, long time… Journalism needs an enema.”

: Dave Winer: “A good journalist wants the same things a good blogger wants.”

: Jay sums up: “Many of the things that used to define journalism don’t anymore. The things that are defining journalism are much more profund; Search for the truth.. Will to change the world…. Individual voice….Journalism is being stripped down to what is essential to it.”

The essence of journalism is changing, Jay says.

Jay explains why he blogs: First, no editors. Second: “because journalism isn’t going to be the same.”

“We’re at the flipping point. Journalism increasingingly professionalized… tied to huge media companies…” and separated from the audience.

And there is this new challenge from the people.

Jay says we want the energy, talent, information of citizens to be much more involved in journalism.

It’s a great time!

  • Yogi Berra

    “David Winer says that the source material is there and we don’t need to compilation of journalism.”
    Sounds like someone who sits on his ass all day in front of a computer screen in a cushy Harvard office. Winer wouldn’t know credible journalism if it bitch-slapped him.

  • http://pubsub.com Bob Wyman

    > C. Crossley (I think) says that journalism is
    > its standards and practices in an ethical
    > framework. Bob Wyman, next to me, is shaking
    > his head, no
    The problem here is that we have “standards and ethical frameworks” in just about everything we do as humans… So, the simple having of standards or ethics cannot be a “distinguishing” feature of journalism. Also, it is clear that journalists use a variety of standards and ethical frameworks. Thus, it is simply conceit to declare that one’s own ethical framework must be used to qualify as journalist. One might say that “Any *good* journalist will use *this* set of standards…” However, that doesn’t help us understand the boundaries of the set of people who are both “good” and “bad” journalists.
    I believe the correct definition is something close to what I offered during the meeting: “Journalism is the timely selection of information, presented within a specific context, for a sustained audience.”
    bob wyman

  • http://www.tnl.net/ Tristan Louis

    “Trisan Louis adds that the lack of objectivity of blogging balances the lack of objectivity of journalism.”
    The problem is one of what I consider to be “so-called” objectivity. The minute you choose to quote particular individuals over other sources, you’ve made a subjective judgement. This judgment is what I consider blogs to counter-balance. Because the blogosphere includes elements on all sides of the political spectrum, blogs become a counter balance in that they provide different views of the same event, all tainted by a particular viewpoint. However, because you know where the bloggers are on the political spectrum, you can figure out that facts that are agreed to by both left and right must be true.
    Because American Media claims objectivity, the kind of political filter happening in the media is not as obvious. This, by the way, is a problem fairly unique to the USA. European publications are generally know for their partisanship so people know that their views of the world are altered by the political viewpoint they subscribe to.
    What we need is to give up the conceit that objectivity can exist in reporting.