RTNDA: Who wants to be a journalist?

Zadi Diaz of JetSet doesn’t want to be a journalist. She doesn’t want to be called a journalist. Neither does Amanda Congdon, who says she never called herself a journalist but a video blogger and actress and producer. They each said that last night at the opening panel for the Radio Television News Directors Association. We journalists keep thinking that everybody wants to be a journalist and that it is our precious title to mete out. But these talented, creative, popular women want none of it. Terry Heaton said he considered them journalists anyway and so do I. But note again that they don’t want our label. Which says something about the label and what we’ve done to it, eh? We’ve made it exclusive. We’ve weighed it down with pretense and presumptions and rules. We’ve made these women assume that being a journalists stops you from doing what they do. Beware.

The panel was filled with some of my very favorite people in this world: Terry Heaton, a leader in getting TV into the next generation; Michael Rosenblum, who among many things has started the VJ movement; Elizabeth Osder, a friend with whom I worked lo 12 years ago and who became a leader in this world (she just left Yahoo to get her hands dirty again); the amazing Zadi; and Amanda Congdon, who needs no intro. They were here to blow the minds of the TV establishment and I think they did; I saw shaking heads and tsk-tsks next to me. These guys are behind newspapers in getting to the climax of the scary movie that is their industry. I was going to live-blog, but the damned Vegas Hilton has no wi-fi or electric plugs. So I shot some snippets (badly) which I’ll upload (but the network in the room is slow as hell . . . so more later). Here’s one with Michael Rosenblum answering the question: what should TV stations do?

(If you don’t see the video, wait a few minutes. It’s going through the YouTube machine. Meant to use Blip.)

Miles O’Brien of CNN, the moderator, had video chats with his charming 13- and 14-year-old daughter and son back at home, asking them how they get the news. They agreed that TV nows just covers murders and stuff and that it’s scary. At the end, Rosenblum said: “You just did a live remote and what did it cost you?… That’s the future, babe.” A few other notes:

Terry showed WKRN’s site and how they have 23 blogs that each have their own brands. That is viral architecture. He later scolded the crowd for teasing their audiences; nobody wants to be teased. Later, he really scolded a journalism student who came up to the microphone with the usual MSM cant. He said he’s sick of people coming into the business worrying about where there next job is going to be. Stations are going to see, as they get more local, that they need to work with local people who are rooted in the community, not dying to move on.

Elizabeth then lectured the students and told them to make sure their schools teach them entrepreneurship. Amen. (I’m teaching a course in entrepreneurial journalism at CUNY in the fall. More on that later.)

Zadi said, “I live online. There’s never an offline.” She said that people on TV “seem to be so animated and fake.” We just want to connect with real people, she argued.


  • Congdon’s right, she’s not a journalist, she’s a personality. That’s why ABC hired her, and that is a perfect illustration of what’s wrong with broadcast journalism. Not the tag it chooses to apply to itself, but the production itself. Journalism is alive and well and will be as long as we have a free society, no matter if it’s produced by operations like the New York Times or Kos or even Drudge. But most broadcast programs can hardly be distinguished from the Entertainment Tonight’s of the world. Broadcast’s problems are its own, not journalism’s.

  • Shhhhhh! QUIET, Jeff, they’ll HEAR you!

    Journalists aside, maybe it would be better to just let nature take its course, and let the TV stations die out, in the long-awaited death they deserve…

    They killed PLAYHOUSE 90 and gave us MY MOTHER, THE CAR, Jeff… Let it GO…

  • David M

    Being a journalist should be something exlusive. There are certain rights that are allocated to those in the profesion, and if “bloggers” like Congdon don’t want to be journalists and held to those standards, then the benefits should not be available as well (see the Apple vs Blogger case – which mask did were they wearing when they leaked and which mask were they wearing when they refused to divulge their sources…if they were journalists the whole time then great, but if not its a very uneasy situation)

  • James Poniewozik

    As one of the MSM journalists who supposedly so greedily clings to the exclusive term “journalist,” I never liked it. I still slip into using it pretty often, but when I think about it, it’s a pretentious term that attempts to gussy up and professionalize work that can usually be described in simpler, more descriptive terms. When people ask what I do, I usually say I’m a “writer” or a “critic” or a “columnist” or something, and then elaborate on what I write and for whom. Sometimes it’s useful to describe a broad class of people who work in the same field but do different tasks (say, to include TV anchors and food writers under the same umbrella) but otherwise “journalist” is mainly useful for those who want to define others out of the term.

  • Rox

    Jeff – my favorite points in this post are hidden from the title, and those are that people don’t want to be teased and my friend Zadi’s comment about what I call the “fakey fake.” They are related. I won’t watch CNN or NYTimes video because they require me to watch the ad first. (Bad news on this front from Adobe today too.) They don’t realize that if they give me what I want, I will very likely stay and watch the ad at the end. That’s when my curiosity has been sated, and when I likely won’t bother to act so fast as to turn it off – especially if the ad is engaging.

    As for people rejecting the fakey fake, this is a really hard concept to grasp, that we humans actually want something authentic. After all, for thousands of your we have been trained to pretend to be “better than” than who we really are, and even more so when it comes to selling. Advertisers tease us with glorified versions of their products, as I guess they too don’t feel “good enough!”

    There is room for everyone at this party, regardless of labels. Just bring what you got and share it.

  • There’s an odd paternalism going on here: the older men are telling the younger women that the women are journalists–even as the women keep insisting they aren’t….

    Apparently, the women are not conpetent enough to make up their minds about whether or not they’re journalists…

    Frankly, I think the women here have a stronger ethical code than the men. They know they are not doing the news, and as not-journalists, they are not bound to disclose where they are earning extra perks (as Amanda does from DuPont) nor any other ethical codes that journalists might adhere to. (they may, however, be held accountable under FCC guidlines governing word-of-mouth marketing and disclosure, but that’s another story…)

    I love my old journo-guy friends (I have several–lucky, lowly little blogger me) and I love when they point out my random acts of journalism. But I’m certainly not writing my blog to be a journalist, any more than Zadi and Amanda are doing their videos to be journalists. Why some old guys get it, and some others don’t–and why they feel such a desperate need to label us journalists– is totally beyond me.

  • I think Michael Rosenblum is being ridiculous saying that we should burn down the TV stations. Couldn’t we just turn them into day care centers or squash courts?