Nick Lemann responds to my Comment is Free post at the Guardian about the cutbacks at CJRDaily.org and his New Yorker essay. I’m glad he is joining the conversation he sparked. He mostly sticks to explaining his actions at the school. We do agree, as he says at the start, that “the internet is potentially the greatest reporting medium ever invented.” I’d like to explore other avenues of agreement. One clarification. Lemann says:
I think Jarvis and I also disagree about whether our school should teach students the substance of complicated subjects that they will write about as journalists – I strongly believe we should, because that is one of the most fundamental ways in which journalism can help inform citizens and thus strengthen democracy, but if I am reading Jarvis correctly he believes we should not because it will “create a greater gap between pro and am”.
No, I do believe that more education in the subjects reporters are likely to cover is important (and CUNY is offering such concentrations to our students, I should add). One cannot possibly argue that more education and knowledge is a bad thing. But no matter how hard and how much a journalism student studies, there will always be someone out there who knows much more. Journalists have fancied themselves experts — they often use the word now — and that’s just not the case, not usually. Reporters are facile at picking up subjects. Reporters should strive to be come more expert in the beats they cover. But, as I’m sure Lemann and I would agree, they do their best work when they go out and report, finding the knowledge of experts — who, thanks to the internet, can now share their knowledge on their own, albeit as amateur journalists. I do think is our job to narrow the gap between pro and am, between journalist and public, to do more together. But less education is not the path to do that. In fact, educating more people is the way to do it, I think.
He also complains that I don’t quote from his New Yorker essay in my post. True. That’s why I linked to it; that is our ethic of the link. And besides, I’d quoted from it plenty here. So I will link again to his Comment is Free post and I look forward to the continuing conversation.
Coffee’s on me, Dean.
: LATER: Over at Unpacking my Library, Chris Anderson, a Columbia Ph.D student also speculates on the meaning of it all and focuses on the notion of expertise:
So, is all this focus on a “new expertise” inherently conservative? Not necessarily, although, at first blush, it certainly is an attempt by a threatened profession to maintain its knowledge-boundary, which has conservative connotations. But as NewAssignment.net and other “networked” journalism projects have shown us, its possible to combine the expertise of the individual and the expertise of the group, at least in theory. The real question, in my mind, is how Columbia’s new MA students are being taught to regard “the expertise of the network.” Are they being taught that they, the “real experts” are a special caste, or, rather, are they learning that there exists such a thing as networked knowledge? These are empirical questions, and I hope to investigate some of them in the years ahead.
I like that: the expertise of the network.