Who does what

Richard Sambrook, the visionary director of global news at the BBC, blogs about the role of citizen journalism but, more interesting to me, he codifies what professional journalists do in a distributed world:

So if information is commodotised, and the public can tell their own stories, what’s the role for the journalist? I came up with three things – verification (testing rumour and clearing fog), explanation (context and background) and analysis (a Google search won’t provide judgement). And journalists still have the resources to go places and uncover things that might otherwise remain hidden. Citizens can do all of those things, but not consistently, and with even less accountability than the media. Brand still matters.

I would add that the professionals also have to add a few new roles, both of which require a new level of openness and generosity: They need to share their knowhow with citizen journalists (I dare not say “train” them but rather let their reader-colleagues know how to avoid libel or get access to records or doublecheck a source). And they need to share trust (that is, find out who knows their stuff and link to them, since the professional journalist can no longer pretend to cover everything). [via David Weinberger]

  • RonP

    if only they did those three things today.

  • I think he is ignoring access that is provided to journalists because of their reputation or affiliation.

    I doubt I would get to speak to my senator if I called, but I’m sure he would be happy to talk to a respected reporter. The same thing goes for insider information, especially leaks. A leaker is only going to speak to someone with a reputation and, perhaps, a big news organization to back them up in case of repercussions.

  • JeffC


    Could the same thing be said for green reporters who haven’t established themselves or their credibility? That reporter would have to make up for it by being persistent to get the interview then build that trust by fairly representing the information gathered. Whatever reputation, good or bad, a news organization has built, the job falls on the journalists in how they build their name and who will talk to them when the next assignment comes around. It seems to me bloggers would face a similar hurdle.

    As far as insider info/leak/whistle-blowers go, you bring up a good point from the reputation and sheer size of some of mainstream media as being a force that could protect the source or shed light on the problem. I will have to think about this one. I’m curious to see others opinions on this.

  • qcontent

    Regarding, “Richard Sambrook’s three things that professional journalists do in a distributed world: –
    1) Verification (testing rumour and clearing fog),
    2) Explanation (context and background)
    3) Analysis (a Google search won’t provide judgement).”

    . . . I would personally feel better and more comfortable about Sambrook’s three rules, if he were to “stress” that a journalist must start with and stay with “the Facts,” “non-fiction”, and “reality”. . .first and foremost; as often as possible. That seems to be point number one, as far as I am concerned.

    That is what journalists had a tendency to do more of, when they were still “reporters”. That is what journalists should still do as “journalists.” (I love how politically correct nomenclature changes, have a tendency to reinvent that which is being renamed or repositioned.) Then they can. . . ‘verify’, ‘explain’, and offer ‘analysis’ (as opposed to misleading the reader into believing that their analysis is fact).

    Too often, many journalists somehow turn their opinions and point of view, into reality and fact, rather than labeling them as being just what they are: their opinion, or point of view, or their analysis. (Many journalists so like to play God, anytime, and every time they get a chance.)

    And yes, as Sambrook said, “brand still matters”. . .but, believability and trust; matter even more.

  • Actually I created “Conjugating the News” (just two weeks ago) for the general public, based on the conviction that when the public knows what the media knows, and the media knows it, then the equation will change. That is explained in the Introduction to “Conjugating.” I am no less ready to “share my knowhow with the citizen journalists.” Brother, am I. The notion of all these citizen journalists running in the streets without an iota of exposure to the craft of journalism scares the hell out of me. And I don’t mean libel or source access. I mean the basic definitions and values of journalism. Hooray for new roles for us professionals, but we need also to stand up shoulder-to-shoulder as champions of our oldest role, which is professionalism.

  • If an article is intended to be educational I’d rather read an author who also just learned about the topic and is a great writer than by an expert who can’t write and doesn’t know how informed the average reader is.

    That said, blogging is so cheap and easy to do that I imagine in five years experts in all fields will be expected to have blogs by their peers if they expect to remain leaders in their field.

    Maybe the generalist journalist will be able to make connections between seemingly unrelated topics and provide a clearer understanding of the big picture than could specialist bloggers.

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  • The ideal news should be “neutral”, that is, they should be reported in a way that expresses just what happened.
    But that is impossible.
    It is like if the outside reality reflected by the eye wouldn’t change depending by the eye that reflects it.
    On a human eye it will be different from the one seen by a cat’s eye and so on…
    So, what’s the role of a journalist? It is everything.
    Depending on him the news will be different.
    And the better the journalist, the more so.
    Because news are not supposed to be just the report of something happened, they are supposed to be a GOOD report of it.
    People want to know, but they like to be entertained by the news.
    They like to be awoken, they like to be involved in the news.
    A good painting doesn’t reproduce the model, it reproduces the artist.
    The same a good piece of music, a good piece of news.

    The journalist must be an artist, he must be able to write in an alluring way, he must be able to catch the audience, to entertain the reader.
    And THIS is something you do not learn.
    You can learn to write in a correct way, but you ARE BORN a journalist.
    That is why SOME bloggers can be better journalists than the journalists.( I wrote some and mean also the opposite, some journalists can be better than bloggers)
    That is why some blogs can be more amusing than a news paper.
    That is what a newspaper should aim to be.
    SOMETHING people like to read, WANT to read, read as much as possible.

    The mean being paper or a computer screen, matters very little.
    The BRAND even less.
    The BRAND of tomorrow could be an unknown blogger of today.

  • If news is a conversation, then the role of the journalist is to start conversations. This is an enormous responsibility in our 2.0 world, and one for which they should be compensated through metrics associated with influence, reliability, trust and respect.

  • R Rainey

    Verification? Rathergate, Jayson Blair, Judy Miller, the latest two Times who-isn’t-who fiascos. ‘Nuff said.

    Explanation? I would rather read Drezner, Austin Bay, Volokh, etc. for context and background than some jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none J School grad who’s only goal is to force the facts to fit his preconceived storyline.

    Analysis? How is this any different than context and background, except perhaps forward looking? See above.

    Really, Jeff, I am surprised you let him off so easy. And if this is all the MSM see themselves contributing, they are in worse shape than I thought.

  • sam