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Past vs future: trying to define what "real journalism" is

Past vs future: trying to define what "real journalism" is

Taking a look at the biting criticism that Bill Keller, executive editor of the New York Times, addressed to Arianna Huffington and her news site, and the caustic answer that she gave, what seems most interesting is the never-ending debate on what is journalism in the present digital world and what it is going to be.

Regardless of who said it first, both contenders, even if from two different points of view, basically agreed that what is happening now in journalism is a kind of convergence: traditional mainstream media are opening themselves to a more media open world, adopting digital tools which allow a more direct participation of the public in the news flood (adopting, with Keller's words also "the culture and psychology of a more open media world"); on the other hand, the startups, the pure online digital operations that have been springing up, are understanding they need discipline, resources, standards, the traditional basic tenets of journalism: accuracy, fairness, fact-checking, more reporters and more editors.
However, this shared view seems to be unavoidably divided by the different judgement over "aggregation" and "aggregation news sites". These online media outlets, amongst which the Huffington Post stands out, are, in Keller's opinion, basically pirates: they are in the business of counterfeiting content rather than engaging in real journalism, Mathew Ingram summarized on Gigaom, reflecting on the diatribe.

On the contrary, Arianna Huffington noted how much real, old-fashioned work of traditional journalism there is in her website and how this has been widely recognized.

Keller's point is that media are becoming too self-referential, interrogating themselves too much about the future of journalism, in an obsessive search for what's "trending" on Twitter and the "American Idol-"ization of news", instead of simply reporting it.

"Keller seems to be missing the point that all media -- both online and offline -- is, to some extent, about aggregation", argued Ingram. "Even newspapers aggregate content from newswires and occasionally rewrite it to make it their own. Yes, they pay those newswires for the privilege, and so does the Huffington Post. The difference is that it pays in attention, which it directs back to the original source, just as Google pays with links when it aggregates content at Google News."

He noted that the term aggregation could mean lots of different things, including for example, what NPR Andy Carvin has been doing, republishing tweets from hundred of different people, journalists and not, while he was covering Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions. You can call it aggregation or "curation" or give it another name, but it's a very real form of 21st-century journalism, the writer argued.

Josh Sternberg, founder of Sternberg Strategic Communications and author of The Sternberg Effect, explained on Mashable that the concept of curating news is not new, as several editors, managing editors and others already have curation roles, "but with the push of social media and advancements in communications technology, the curator has become a journalist by proxy". The over-flooding of information from innumerable sources means that there is a need for someone who acts as a trusted intermediary, sorting out and editing the right information.

"Unlike a reporter who is immersed in a particular industry or beat, a curator often has a day job. Some are in the media industry and have access to their publication's news sources; others are obsessed with the news and want to provide their network, community or followers with what they think is important. But the common thread between curators is that they are viewed as trustworthy sources of information", Sternberg wrote.

As journalism and technologies continue to evolve, the role of curator may well continue to grow. Trusted curators, standards and better tools to filter content will be fundamental and many news organizations for example are on Tumblr acting as curators.

To sum up, whether you are an old-fashioned press nostalgic or a technological media junkie, whether you believe that "Journalists have lost control of the story" and whatever you think about what journalism is, the continuing debate on the matter only indicates how vital and fundamental journalism still is.

Sources: New York Times, Huffington Post, Gigaom, Mashable, Nieman Lab



Federica Cherubini


2011-03-11 18:13

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