Saturday, October 14, 2006

The new Corinthians: How the Web is socialising journalism

Milverton Wallace, founder/organiser of the European Online Journalism Awards


The momentum of change is with the new Corinthians. The open source ethos and method of work/production, which began in the periphery with collaborative software development, is moving to centre stage by way of the blogging revolution and open standards in web services. In tagging, syndication, ranking and bookmarking we have the rudiments of a peer-to-peer trust, reputation and recommendation system well suited to self-regulating collaborative networks.


James Cameron (1911-1985), arguably the greatest British journalist of the last 100 years, always insisted that journalism is a craft. Now "craft" implies pride in work, integrity in dealing with customers, rites of passage, and long years of training to acquire the requisite skills/knowledge.
But that was then. Today, journalism is a "profession". Many aspiring hacks now need a university or other accredited "qualification", and, except in the Anglo-American world, a government issued licence to"qualify" as a journalist. In some countries you're compelled by regulations to belong to a recognised association and to obey its code of standards in order to practice and earn a living as a journalist. The march towards professionalism began with the rise of the mass media in the latter part of the 19th century, a development made possible by the invention of the rotary printing press, cheap papermaking from wood pulp, and mass literacy.

Cheap mass circulation newspapers gave proprietors the kind of political influence they never had before. The press was becoming an increasingly powerful social force, a counter-balance to big business and the state. However, this power was fragile. Corporations and governments resisted the press's self-appointed role of watchdog and muckraker. But the press barons fought back.
In response to state and corporate resistance to openness and disclosure of information, they raised the banner of "the public's right to know" as a fundamental democratic freedom. To counter charges of irresponsible reporting, journalists developed rigorous techniques for gathering, distilling and presenting information; and, to standardise these procedures and wrap them in an ethical framework, a normative model for reporting, carved in stone, was crafted: impartiality, objectivity, accuracy, transparency.

Thus was Cameron's craft gradually "professionalised", and, in the process, turned into an exclusive club with a privileged membership.

Today, this carefully constructed edifice is crumbling as the read/write web blows away the need to be a member of any such club to be able to practise journalism. Arguments about who is or isn't a journalist is a sideshow, a pre-occupation mostly of self-styled guardians of truth. The inexorable fact is that the genie is out of the bottle and a significant number of "unqualified" people are "doing journalism" without permission from anyone.

So, let us accept that the "authorities" can no longer decide who is or isn't a journalist. We have no choice. But we need to ask some crucial questions: Who will now enforce the rules and codes? What is to become of them? Should we care? Do we still need them? Are they "fit for purpose" in the digital age?

Digital media, and in particular, it's social offsprings - social media such as blogs, vlogs, wikis, IM; social networks such as MySpace, Facebook, Bebo, Tagworld, Orkut etc., and social bookmarking services such as Furl, Del.icio.us, DIGG, StumbleUpon, MyWeb - have enabled the amateurisation of the media. The barbarians have entered the gates. Is the empire on the verge of collapse?

Nowadays, the word "amateur" is being deployed by media professionals to belittle the media-making efforts of bloggers and others who create media productions outside the journalism guilds. Such reporting is deemed "unreliable", "biased", "subjective"; they are "unaccountable", the facts and the sources "unverifiable".

All of this must be puzzling to historians of the modern mass media. Consider the first newspaper in English, a translation of a Dutch coranto, printed in Amsterdam in December 1620 and exported to England. It began with an apology, a typographical error, a number of lies and disinformation. The apology appeared in the first line of the publication: "The new tydings out of Italie are not yet com". The error (in spelling) was in the date: "The 2. of Decemember". The lies? The dates of many events were brought forward to make the news appear fresher than they were. The disinformation? Many news items in the Dutch edition which might have displeased the English government were not translated for the English edition out of fear that the authorities would seize or ban the publication. Verily, a very unprofessional beginning!

And who were the "reporters" for the early periodical press? Postmasters, clergymen, sheriffs, burghers, shipping clerks, court officials, merchants, travellers. In a word, "amateurs"!
So now we've come full circle: from 17th /18th century amateurism, to 19th/20th century professionalism and back to amateurism in the 21st century.

Here we use ....

Click here to read the full article

4 Comments:

Anonymous Ian Grant said...

I have been a reader and supporter of Club of Amsterdam goals almost from the beginning - more strength to your elbow. Which is why I find it a tad ironic that there is no (obvious) way to comment directly on Milverton Wallace's pertinent article on the future of journalism. Perhaps that could be introduced at some point?

With reference to his article, the link to Warren Buffet's comments on the future of newspapers brought up the point that very few people have the time or desire to be connected all the time. I suspect our media consumption habits will become more capricious--we will scan headlines more, but we will read in depth only that which interests us moment by moment, and that mostly means entertainment. Attention deficit syndrome may become congenital because of the fragmentation of media.

In the longer term this will be bad for the world because some of the issues confronting us, such as climate change, energy consumption, water shortages, responses to demographic change etc. require long and deep powers of concentration and action.

These are all highly politicised issues at local, national and international levels. But the fragmentation of media sources means that the politicians are becoming and less less accountable. Already people feel alienated from the democratic process.

Once upon a time, the London Times was known as The Thunderer, such was its clout with politicians. Under Murdoch, that clout has passed to the more down-market, entertainment-oriented Sun. As Murdoch and others embrace the Web, that clout is likely to dissipate, leaving politicians largely unaccountable, even though we may know more and more about their personal and professional activities.

We may be better informed about global affairs, but we seem to care less. And our representatives seem to be less and less decisive, possibly because we trust (everyone) less. We may think global, but we act local, no matter what head office says.

That route can lead to a nasty brutish and short future for the less powerful in society. The alternative requires a more altruistic view, one that regards and treats the planet as a finite, interconnected resource and the only available home for most of mankind.

The Web could be a powerful agent for harmonising society's desires and shaping the direction of change, but can it work quickly enough at local level to make a difference?

Yours sincerely
Ian Grant

October 26, 2006 1:41 PM  
Anonymous Ian Grant said...

I have been a reader and supporter of Club of Amsterdam goals almost from the beginning - more strength to your elbow. Which is why I find it a tad ironic that there is no (obvious) way to comment directly on Milverton Wallace's pertinent article on the future of journalism. Perhaps that could be introduced at some point?

With reference to his article, the link to Warren Buffet's comments on the future of newspapers brought up the point that very few people have the time or desire to be connected all the time. I suspect our media consumption habits will become more capricious--we will scan headlines more, but we will read in depth only that which interests us moment by moment, and that mostly means entertainment. Attention deficit syndrome may become congenital because of the fragmentation of media.

In the longer term this will be bad for the world because some of the issues confronting us, such as climate change, energy consumption, water shortages, responses to demographic change etc. require long and deep powers of concentration and action.

These are all highly politicised issues at local, national and international levels. But the fragmentation of media sources means that the politicians are becoming and less less accountable. Already people feel alienated from the democratic process.

Once upon a time, the London Times was known as The Thunderer, such was its clout with politicians. Under Murdoch, that clout has passed to the more down-market, entertainment-oriented Sun. As Murdoch and others embrace the Web, that clout is likely to dissipate, leaving politicians largely unaccountable, even though we may know more and more about their personal and professional activities.

We may be better informed about global affairs, but we seem to care less. And our representatives seem to be less and less decisive, possibly because we trust (everyone) less. We may think global, but we act local, no matter what head office says.

That route can lead to a nasty brutish and short future for the less powerful in society. The alternative requires a more altruistic view, one that regards and treats the planet as a finite, interconnected resource and the only available home for most of mankind.

The Web could be a powerful agent for harmonising society's desires and shaping the direction of change, but can it work quickly enough at local level to make a difference?

Yours sincerely
Ian Grant

October 26, 2006 1:43 PM  
Anonymous Ian Grant said...

As at leaast one person was confused by my comment that there was no (obvious) way to comment on Mr Wallace's article, let me clarify:

I could find no link on the page that hosts the article to a comment space, so I wrote to the editor. Mr Bopp kindly invited me to post the letter on the blogsite, and sent me the appropriate link, which I might not have found otherwise.

How much easier it would be for us all if the link was included on the host page (at the foot of the page), and if we could read all comment on the article on that same page.

This is a system followed by sites such as Salon, and which preserves the continuity of the experience. This is no bad thing in an attention-deficit driven enviroment, I think.

October 26, 2006 2:56 PM  
Blogger Felix Bopp said...

Ian

we are busy with the next generation of our website http://www.clubofamsterdam.com. It will take a while until it will be launched ....

Best regards
Felix

October 26, 2006 3:13 PM  

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