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Journalists must rethink the place of "users" in the industry

Journalists must rethink the place of "users" in the industry

Journalism schools are in a frenzy trying to adjust to the changes in the newspaper industry. Schools everywhere are modifying their curriculums, ranging from offering new certificates to renovating degree programs entirely. Students need to know new areas of studies to keep up with changing technologies, and for the first time journalists need to keep up with computers, search engines, and mobile apps to survive. Yet these are all "hardware" skills. The "software" skills come from the insight to see how the digital revolution is changing the relationship journalists have with the public. Jay Rosen, professor of journalism at NYU, gave a welcoming speech to students entering Science Po's journalism degree program (An expanded form of his speech can be found on his website). Rosen emphasized that new journalists (along with more seasoned professionals) need to change the way they think about their connection with the public, as the two are morphing into a much more active part of the journalism domain.

Rosen began his speech by recalling the days before popular print. 250 years ago, public opinion mattered very little and all the decisions that affected society were considered the "King's Business." With the emergence of print, people started to become interested in society as ideas started to spread. Newspapers started to get people to react to the world, instead of just consume it. The public became "thinkable," which is where the foundation of journalism began. Rosen goes on to list his advise to the students:

1. "Replace readers, viewers, listeners and consumers with the term users." With the rise of social media and mobile applications, people are very active in their news consumption routine. Different sources of media from radio to newspaper are converging on the internet, which allows for a greater source of public interaction. "Users is a more active identity, it works for all platforms, and [sic] the way you imagine the users will determine how useful a journalist you will be," Rosen advises.

2. "Remember: the users know more than you do." Rosen reminds young journalists "In the aggregate, the people on the receiving end have more knowledge, more contacts, more experience and more good ideas than a single journalist can ever have." Journalists should not fear the knowledge of the public, but rather facilitate ways to disburse it. For example, NPR has used its Facebook users to source information for content.

3. "There's been a power shift; the mutualization of journalism is here." Journalists need to realize they are not the only people in the field reporting on critical information. Users "bring us a rich diversity, specialist expertise and on the ground reporting that we couldn't possibly hope to achieve without including them in what we do." The Guardian wisely included science specialists in a blog network, acknowledging that journalists are not always the best suited for publishing content. However professional reporters still bring their editing, experiences, expertise, brand, and ethics to the table.

4. "Describe the world in a way that helps people participate in it." Social media is the new trend for the future. People react better to news when they are a part of it, rather that being patronized by "specialists." Websites and mobile apps that include methods of interaction fair better in the marketplace.

5. "Anyone can doesn't mean everyone will." Rosen admits that most people may read content passively, but the fact that new technologies give more opportunities for interaction is still important. "The fact that 'anyone can' is still important because you can never predict who will accept your invitation."

6. "The journalist is just a heightened case of an informed citizen, not a special class." Rosen articulates his point well by asserting "A professional journalist knows how to get information, ask questions, tell stories and connect isolated facts. These are not esoteric or specialized skills, just heightened versions of things any smart citizen should be able to do."

7. "Your authority starts with, 'I'm there, you're not, let me tell you about it.'" The heart of journalism is in its investigative endeavors. "Your authority begins when you do the work. If an amateur or a blogger does the work, the same authority is earned," Rosen states. "Seeing people as a public means granting that without rancor." There is also much to be said for protecting investigative journalism in a time of economic hardship and realizing how technology can assists journalists in maintaining investigative quality.

8. "Somehow, you need to listen to demand and give people what they have no way to demand." There is pressure on journalists to appease the Google search engines, but also to inform the users of important events in society. Rosen's solution? Balance the two objectives. "Ignoring what the users want is dumb in one way; editing by click rate is dumb in a different way. Respect for the users lies in between these two."

9. "If your bid to be trusted, don't take the View From Nowhere; instead, tell people where you're coming from." Rosen believes journalists have a responsibility to be forthcoming with their own bias and "level with the users." Rather than appearing to be 100% objective, journalists will find their credibility stems from transparency.

10. "Breathe deeply of what DeTocqueville said: 'Newspapers make associations and associations make newspapers.'" Rosen notes "wherever people have a common interest and wish to discuss it, there lies an opportunity for a smart journalist." The objective of journalists is to draw in a passive audience and create an opportunity for them to share their ideas. This is why hyperlocal sites have been so successful, as users have an opportunity to interact directly with their communities.

In essence, Rosen's words or wisdom remind journalists of how lucky they are to be living in a time of rapid transformation. The rise of social media gives all citizens a voice, and with that will come the next phase in the field of journalism. "The rise of the periodical press, the emergence of the public as an actor in politics, and the power of public opinion such that even princes have to respect it, are not so much parallel developments as three aspects of the same event," say Rosen. "Together, they made modern journalism thinkable."

Sources: Jay Rosen: A Public Notebook



Stefanie Chernow


2010-09-08 14:44

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