SuperMedia: a book report on steroids

Networked Journalism is like steroids for the news media.

And as with any steroids, it doesn’t give the user a reprieve from doing the work; but it does offer a way to get more out of the work the user does.

Charlie Beckett, the originator of this whole Networked Journalism thing said, “Networked Journalism is a process not a product.”

It’s a way to blur the line of demarcation in the production stage between “us and them” – professional vs. citizen journalist – and thus restore the media’s authority that Beckett said is lacking, or at the very least, seriously weakened in journalism today.

He isn’t saying we abandon professional journalism in favor of crowd sourcing or wikis, but rather that professionals use these and other tools as a means to accomplish their journalistic end.

The journalist will still be in charge of editorial decisions, but the role of “gatekeeper” will shift to “facilitator” who connects people to the information they seek.

If you think about it, that’s really been the goal of good journalism all along.

But, the idea of Networked Journalism – or process of it – is really about revamping traditional media in three ways: connection, collaboration and commercialization.

Connection

“Good journalism has always been about networking,” said Beckett.

And indeed this is true. It’s not just some new phenomenon of journalism moving online. Journalists have always strove to connect with readers, other journalists, sources, etc… It almost goes hand-in-hand with collaboration, but for now, I’ll think of connection more in terms of tools for accomplishing it.

It’s a great time to be in journalism from a connection aspect because new technologies render certain problems of news gathering obsolete.

Journalists need not look for a pay phone to read stories to writers back in the station, they can just submit things from a laptop with wireless Internet access or a cell phone from the field.

Twitter can also be helpful to journalists in a variety of ways involving connection with others.

There are many other tools helping today’s journalists, but they are so numerous that they deserve much more in-depth coverage than I have space for here.

Suffice it to say that technology has greatly enhanced the ability of journalists to be connected, and yet some haven’t embraced the ease with which this can be accomplished through the application of digital means.

This has got to change and that is a basic premise on which Network Journalism is built.

Collaboration

Collaboration is the by-product of connection with an audience. Some journalists seem to be fighting the idea of collaborating with the citizenry on matters of production, but this goes against the grain of what journalism is about.

“Properly done, news should be a conversation among those who know and those who want to know, with journalists – in their new roles as curators, enablers, organizers, educators – helping where they can,” said Jeff Jarvis, media blogger, journalism professor and author of SuperMedia’s foreword.

This isn’t saying that journalism should be abandoned as a professional endeavor, left to amateurs with blogs and other various forms of social media. That’s not what Networked Journalism is about.

But, it is about collaboration between media professionals and their audience.

The Protestant Reformation happened largely because people were no longer content to rely exclusively on priests to report to them on matters of religion as explained in the Bible. People wanted a more interactive role and the new technology of the time – the printing press – facilitated this desire.

Journalism is undergoing its Protestant Reformation in that people are no longer content to rely only on “professionals” to impart them with information about current events.

They want to play a more interactive role in their own media consumption and new technology has facilitated this desire by marginalizing a once large barrier to entry into journalism – the printing press.

“Power of the press now belongs not to those who own one, but to those who own a modem,” said Paul Bass, editor of the New Haven Independent.

With millions of people who own modems able to have a voice and play a role in journalism, collaboration is inevitably necessary for commercial journalism’s survival.

So, journalists in the traditional sense should listen to Peggy Sturdivant’s philosophy of embracing the “journalistic tendencies as the common denominator” and collaborate.

It really will be beneficial.

As Beckett points out, “Journalism is topical. It is about telling people something as quickly as you can. Everything else is history.”

Indeed the idea of journalism being the “rough draft of history” should precipitate more collaboration.

Take for instance the collaboration among journalists from competing organizations in Washington state – some of whom had never met – and their citizen collaborators on Twitter in quickly gathering news about a storm.

This is a prime example of how Networked Journalism can aid in effective news gathering and transmission.

Also, journalists in formal roles are often easily identifiable and thus can be relatively easily censored.

Think of the regimes in Iran or China where media freedom is a laughable ideal. The government controls the means of communication (to a point) and can suppress journalists from reporting unfavorable events to the rest of the world.

However, the government lacks the means to silence every voice with a cell phone, blog or Twitter account. Therefore, under the Networked Journalism process, reporting of events like the Iranian election riots are still able to escape suppression by government censors and the rest of the world then benefits from the collaboration between journalist and citizen.

The goal is effective dissemination of information in order to lead to a more informed citizenry. Collaboration and Networked Journalism can help accomplish this goal.

Commercialization

Networked Journalism is a social good like Beckett said, but at the end of the day needs to be a commercial endeavor.

Society benefits when journalism thrives because people are more informed. But, journalism needs to discover new ways of supporting itself.

Some, like John Nichols and Robert W. McChesney, believe that the government should supplement journalism so as to circumvent the free-rider effect that seems to run rampant in online journalism.

However, editorial freedom might theoretically suffer should the government get involved.

Beckett has some insight into this since some of the media – including outlets he worked for – in the UK are already supplemented.

At any rate, there seems to be little debate that self-sufficient journalism, commercially speaking, is the best. Although, this isn’t always possible.

However, grants and capital dry up and government supplements are perpetually in danger of being withdrawn as new administrations come and go.

Networked Journalism offers the potential to increase commercialization through the linked ecology Jarvis said is inherent of the Internet.

If advertising supported the press all the years it was in print, there is a way to do so in the digital era. Key words and click-through rates to online advertisements are one way. Banner ads are another. Pop-ups are annoying and now defunct.

Other means include an ad playing prior to watching a video on a news site, or charging for certain content of pertinent interest after having drawn the reader in initially with free content in a concept known as “freemium.”

As journalists catch-up with technology, so too will advertisers and new ways of capitalizing on the commercial value of Networked Journalism will arise.

After all, the basic principles of journalism haven’t changed and it’s value hasn’t diminished.

This is why journalists need to embrace new technologies so that, in the words of Charlie Beckett, they can “save journalism so it can save the world.”

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2 responses to “SuperMedia: a book report on steroids

  1. Dear Warren,
    If people want more up to date versions of my analysis of networked journalism they should go to my blog at http://www.charliebeckett.org or follow me on Twitter @charliebeckett
    Best wishes
    Charlie Beckett

  2. Pingback: Flrunners and the MileSplit Network « Warren Tillery's Blog

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