Posts from April 14, 2004

What is journalism? II

What is journalism? II
: Now we’re getting to the important issues: In the Wall Street Journal today, there’s a heated debate over journalism:

Bonnie Fuller’s Star changed the color of Demi Moore’s dress and Martha Nelson of People huffs:

“We would never do that,” she said. “We come from a company that is based on the highest principles of journalism.”

What would you have asked the Pres?

What would you have asked the Pres?

: If you’d been invited to the Pres conference last night, what would you have asked the Pres?

I wouldn’t have asked what the press did. I wouldn’t have kept harping for an apology, a confession of failure, a mea culpa, a begging for forgiveness, a rendition of Feelings with feeling. That’s not news. That’s not policy. That’s meaningless. It’s spin.

Right now on the FoxNews afternoon talk show, they’re replaying the questions reporters asked last night and asking the audience whether they are — of course — “fair and balanced.” You can guess the answers.

I’d ask instead whether they were good questions. Too many weren’t.

Also below, I suggest that the White House press office — or any flack in power — would be wise to ask bloggers to a press conference to do what reporters are supposed to do: Ask the questions that we, the people, would ask if we’d been invited.

So what would you ask the Pres?

What is journalism?

What is journalism?
: Getting ready for BloggerCon (and a drink with Jay Rosen later today), I reread Jay’s essay setting the table for the session that asks, “What is journalism?” I recommend it highly.

By “journalism” we ought to mean the practice of it, not the profession of it. Journalism can happen on any platform. It is independent of its many delivery devices. This also means that journalism is not the same thing–at all–as “the media.” The media, or Big Media as some call it, does not own journalism, and cannot dispose of it on a whim….

But what most identifies the practice of journalism is not power, profit, or free expression in itself. It’s the idea of addressing, engaging and freely informing a “public” about events in its world.

The discussion that ensues is amazing and has built into a freeze-dried conference round-table (at which everyone actually has a chance to say something). It’s even longer than a Rosen post but I recommend it; worth the time.

: I couldn’t help joining in the conversation and added this:

I come at this with three abstract questions:

1. What is the relationship of journalism to its public now?

That relationship has radically changed thanks to the links of the Web. We can link to news stories; they can (but still don’t) link to us; we can link to sources; we can link to opinions; the linking can add up to better information. The links turn news into a conversation. And as a result, the relationship of “journalist” to “public” when the become, often, one and the same.

Similarly, the relationships of “news source” and “journalist” and “public” and “citizen” are quite the game of 52-card pickup. Those in power can now speak to their publics bypassing the press. But shouldn’t citizens also be able to address those in power just as journalists have? It’s about accredidation: Who has the right to sit in the White House and question the President on behalf of all of us? Who has the right to get in the mayor’s face and ask what happened to our money? Who has the right to stop us?

2. What are the standards of journalism (if any)?

Oh, gawd, I don’t want to end up with a debate on journalistic objectivity or white-glove pickiness either. But I’m not sure old, assumed (and often unwritten) standards are valid anymore. So perhaps it’s better to ask what the standards (if any) should be. Do we need standards? Is that what the “professional” journalists are best equipped to share with the “citizen” journalists? Or, instead, should journalists share access (see #1) and tricks (e.g., Freedom of Information requests) and let the marketplace do what it will (and we, the readers will — as we already do — decide whom we do and don’t believe and trust). Credibility is the only standard that matters. Do we need standards to support that?

3. What are the expectations of journalism?

This is so closely related to #2 that it may be the same question. But I think that big media have lost sight of what its public wants of it. Evidence: the disparity between what ends up high on a Technorati or Blogdex list of buzzed-about topics vs. what lands on Page One of your paper. Evidence: The popularity of FoxNews in a country that was supposed to cherish objective journalism devoid of opinion. Evidence: Circulation and ratings. One of the most important lessons this new world imparts is that it captures what people actually care about instead of what the old, editorial “we” thought the old consumer “they” should care about. So what are the expectations of journalism today in any form? Reliability? Credibility? Honesty? Transparency? Frequency? Completeness? Links? Conversation? Opinion? Speed? What does our public want of us? Doesn’t that really define what the mission of journalism should be?

: UPDATE: The Christian Science Monitor says:

The past year has been the most miserable in the history of modern American journalism.

: And The Boston Globe says:

At a time when public distrust of the news media appears to be at a dangerously high level, there is evidence of a deep and fundamental disagreement between those who produce news and those who consume it.

Although most journalists believe quality and values are vital elements of their work and see themselves as providing an important civic function, the reading and viewing public seems to think of journalism as a bottom-line-driven enterprise populated by the ethically challenged.

: The Globe also says Hollywood is looking at the news business as a laughingstock [read: sitcom fodder.] [update links via IWantMedia]

Citizens’ media in Iraq

Citizens’ media in Iraq
: U.S. Marines in Iraq are raising money to equip seven TV stations in Iraq to be owned and operated by Iraqis. From the Spirit of America site:

News broadcasts in Iraq can be biased, inaccurate and incomplete – to put it mildly. Your contribution will create a television alternative owned and operated by Iraqis. This will provide better information, counter efforts to provoke and help reduce tensions….

It is essential to success of the Marine Corps’ mission in Iraq that the Iraqi people understand our sincerest desires to help them rebuild their country and lay the foundation for a viable and free democratic society.

This is wonderful on a few fronts: See how our soldiers are working hard to help the people of Iraq. Operation Give brings gifts to children. Soldiers are helping rebuild the nation after years of neglect. And now there is this effort to help Iraq. Note that contributions are being raised as a memorial to the soldier just killed in Iraq — one of three sisters there — and it is being given to benefit Iraqi orphans. Our soldiers care about the people of Iraq.

On another front, it’s great to see the recognition that putting the tools of media in the hands of people will be good for democracy (and let’s hope we don’t shut down these stations as we shut down a paper). I’ll be saying more about how we can all help to do this online as well soon. [via Armed Liberal]

Really Simple Something

Really Simple Something
: Jason Kottke says what I’ve been saying for some time — but much better: that RSS isn’t really about syndication. It’s a higher form of content distribution because it’s smarter; it knows more about itself (e.g., what’s a headline and what’s body text and when it was written and how much there is) and the readers are smarter than plain old browsers (they know what I’ve read).

As I get ready to implement RSS at my day-job sites — and work with a few vendors on RSS readers — I keep facing this same problem: What is it? How do we describe it? How do we tell readers why they should use this and what it will do for them? What the hell do we call it?

What RSS really needs is a marketing product manager. [via Ross Mayfield]