July 30th, 2007
NowPublic has taken a big round of financing and, according to Mathew Ingram, was in a position to turn down acquisition offers. This is being hailed as the success of “citizen journalism” or “crowdsourcing,” but it strikes me that it’s really just the success of….journalism.
The words we use to describe things can have a powerful effect on how we perceive them — George Orwell observed this in Politics and the English Language.
I think there is a battle going on over control of the word “journalism.”
Many people in the news business seem to have a vested interest in separating journalism as it has traditionally been practiced, by employees of news organizations that controlled monopoly distribution channels, from “citizen journalism” or “crowdsourcing” or anything else that represents the evolution of journalism in a networked media world.
So we have “serious, traditional” journalism over HERE, and all this experimenting with “citizens” and “crowds” and whatnot over THERE.
Well, it’s time to call foul on this. NowPublic and other sites like it are doing JOURNALISM — the practice of journalism hasn’t been fundamentally changed so much as it has been extended. Journalism used to be linear. Now it’s networked. It used to be in the hands of a few. Now it’s in the hands of many more.
It makes no sense to call people contributing to NowPublic CITIZEN journalists, unless the intent is to qualify their identity in order to set them apart from “real” journalists.
Now that doesn’t mean we can’t use qualifies like “good” and “bad.” People with less EXPERIENCE in the practice of journalism may be more likely to produce BAD journalism. But that’s also true of rookie reporters working for mainstream news organizations. This is an issue of training, and experienced full-time journalists are in just as much need of training on how to adapt to a networked media age as journalists contributing part-time to NowPublic may be in need of training in how to act responsibly and manage the gathering and dissemination of news.
Now Public’s CEO Len Brody also takes issue with the nomenclature (via GigaOm):
“If you go to NowPublic, you will never ever see the term citizen journalism mentioned,” said Brody. “Telling someone they’re going to be a citizen journalist is like telling people they’re going to be a citizen dentist — most people view it as a profession and art form.” NowPublic’s preferred term is “crowd powered.”
I have to take issue with the word “crowd” as well, because the connotations aren’t positive:
crowd – noun
1. a large number of persons gathered closely together; throng: a crowd of angry people.
And “crowd-powered” terminology again puts up a barrier between journalism being practiced at NowPublic and journalism being practiced on mainstream news sites, when in fact they exist on a continuum.
The future of journalism depends on collaboration, not silos and fiefdoms. Journalism with a capital J needs to maintain standards but it also, desperately, needs to evolve in order to thrive as in a networked media age.
Being a journalist and practicing journalism is no longer strictly a function of where you work — it’s a function of what you do — and how well you do it. Not everyone who publishes on the web is acting journalistically — VERY far from it. But we need to embrace the reality that not all the people practicing journalism, for better or worse, are working for traditional news organizations.
We still need to recognize where people are doing great journalism, and we still need to criticize bad journalism.
But we need to recognize the larger sphere that journalism now occupies and the larger group of people who are now acting as journalists — and we need to help them all succeed for the greater good that journalism, in its ideal, has always been about.