Apr 8, 2008

The validation machine

Seattle Times columnist John Talton does my talking for me on the trend of "citizen journalism" and the real causes of the Decline and Fall of your local newspaper.

I encourage you to read the whole thing, but here's a long excerpt:

As for “citizen journalists,” they used to be called tipsters, and they can bring value. Devices such a camera-equipped cell phones, text-messaging and computers on wi-fi allow everyday people to send in information, some of which might be newsworthy. But their use calls for vigilant editing – at a time when the old roles of newspaper editors have morphed into a maelstrom of attending meetings, slinging copy and gathering doo-dads for graphics. I wonder if the care and quality are still being applied many places. More importantly, “citizen journalists” generally can’t and won’t do the work that has been performed by paid professionals. Journalism has seen its share of the lazy and knavish. But in general, these professionals have for decades provided an invaluable, and irreplaceable, public service in a democracy.

Not everybody can report intelligently or intelligibly on the workings of business, even though corporations and the capital markets have more power over the lives of average Americans than at any time in history. Not everybody can bring the news from foreign capitals, war zones, genocides and emerging powers, even though in the era of globalization these events will have profound consequences for Americans. Not everyone can spend the months it takes to dig out malfeasance in institutions such as government, health care and business that costs tax dollars, retirement nest eggs and even lives. Done well, this journalism explains the world, uncovers injustice and is essential for a self-governing people. Corporate newspapers have been cutting back these critical functions for years. They won’t be replaced by “citizen journalists.” This is the work of real journalists who have spent years honing a complicated craft, who have been increasingly thrown out of work.

The major corporate newspaper owners have long been the prisoners of a group think that has devalued these journalistic skills, somehow telling themselves that technology would save them, or technology was the danger, or both. “Get a great story and put it in the paper (or online)” remains the reality. The trouble the newspaper industry faces is largely the failure of a business plan involving monopolies, exorbitant advertising rates, an unwillingness to invest in research and development, and, finally, a jettisoning of journalism to chase assorted fads.

The results have been predictably dismal.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm just waiting for the first "citizen journalist" who publishes something without thoroughly checking their information to get sued for libel.

Sure, the web allows pretty much anyone to immediately publish any thought, idea, opinion or wild rumor they can come up with. But for most of them -- unlike most newspaper reporters -- they're doing it without the benefit of other opinions, questioning editors, professional legal advice and corporate support. They're doing their high-wire act without a safety net, and it can be pretty dangerous up there.