Argue with me II: What old and new media can teach each other
: I’ll continue to post Q&As from the Corante interview by Ernie Miller in hopes of getting discussion going over at Corante’s site. The first one is below. Here’s the second one on what big media and citizens media and learn from each other. If you feel so inclined to bark at me (or purr) please, by all means, go do so here.
EM: What lessons should the old media be learning? What lessons can they teach newer media?
JJ: Big media has a great deal to learn from citizens’ media. First and foremost, old media lost its humanity. It no longer knows how to talk to us eye-to-eye and it certainly doesn’t know how to listen. It refuses to admit that it could be human and make mistakes (see Dan Rather, see Howell Raines). Big media must learn that news isn’t over when it’s printed and fishwrap; that is when the real story cycle begins, when the public asks questions and adds facts and corrects mistakes and adds perspective and helps get closer to the truth. Big media has to learn to be more honest — that is, to level with its public, to reveal its prejudices and process as citizen journalists do.
On a practical level — as advertising revenue and audiences decline — big media has to learn from citizens’ media how to do things cheaper, to spend less effort and money on commodity news we already know and more effort on the skills and products that make it valuable. And citizens’ media can help big media do this: At Advance.net, my employer, we are experimenting with hyperlocal blogs written by people in our towns in our newspaper and online markets, providing news and information and viewpoints we never could afford to gather on our own and allowing us — or so the strategy goes — to target advertising so narrowly that we can attract a new population of advertisers who never could afford to use our products before: the golden fleece of the local drycleaner and pizzeria and lawyer.
Now on what citizens’ media can learn from the big guys:
Though I do believe that big media has a great deal to learn from citizens’ media — if they’ll listen — I also believe there are lessons old media can teach the new. Some bloggers may not want to hear that, but I think it is the responsibility of established media to share those lessons with those who’ll listen.
Some of the lessons are quite practical: Journalism — and legal — experts should be teaching bloggers about protecting themselves in the arenas of libel and copyright. And it’s important to add that big media should see bloggers as colleagues and help extend such protections as shield laws to them, for what happens to bloggers could happen to journalists and vice versa. Journalists also can teach bloggers how to use the Freedom of Information Act to dog government. I’d even say that some bloggers would benefit from learning how to write better headlines and leads and nut graphs, as we quaintly call them.
Big media — sometimes by unfortunate example — also can provide object lessons in the value of the only real asset they hold, credibility, and how that can fall away if treated with disregard, haughtiness, or disrespect. See, again, The New York Times with Jayson Blair and CBS News with Rathergate. Pride goeth before the expose. But bloggers would be wise not to get haughty themselves, as I fear they will. When I appeared on CNBC’s Capitol Report the other night with a blogger, he put himself above The Times and CBS because, he declared, he gets his facts right and they don’t. I wanted to shout at him: Stop now before it’s too late! Don’t make yourself into an would-be institution, like Rather; don’t put yourself up on a pedestal, because the fall from it is long and painful!
And now a plug for the Citizens Media Center:
(Pardon this interruption for a pledge moment: I’ve been trying to fund a Citizens’ Media Center to deal with precisely these issues, serving four constituencies — citizens’ media practitioners, who could benefit from a few of these lessons; and journalism students, big media companies, and newsmakers, all of whom need to learn how to interact with their publics in new ways. It’s my media mitzvah. Think this is a good cause? Email me. Now back to John Tesh and Yanni at Riverdance….)