August 18th, 2007
It used to be the product of journalism was static — printed column inches in a newspaper or magazine, a TV segment, etc. — when it was in the can, that was it. Done. The only additional mode of activity was printing a correction the next day, or perhaps a follow-up story. But the original story was etched in the stone of a static medium.
But the Web is not a static medium, and therefore journalism on the Web is not static — it is a dynamic process that never ends.
That’s why the LA Times is wrong to argue that the new comment feature of Google News is not journalism — allowing participants in a story to comment unedited is not, by itself, ALL of journalism, but it is indeed part of the new continuous, dynamic journalistic process.
What many bloggers do, for example, does not by itself fit the traditional definition of journalism. But in my interview with her, Arianna Huffington described a blogger as being part of the journalist process through “the obsessive way in which he or she focuses on something that’s being overlooked by the mainstream media, relentlessly drawing attention to something until it can no longer be ignored.” Bloggers are now part of the process.
As Robert Niles at Online Journalism Review states in his rebuttal of the LA Times editorial, “No journalist should ever presume that a single news article ever is complete.” Jeff Jarvis calls the new Google News comment feature a “means of continuing the journalistic process by getting response and with it more viewpoints and facts.”
The LA Times editorial does acknowledge, “News organizations have their flaws, and the added comments on Google may demonstrate that.”
I think the key here is redefining “flaws” in journalism — news organizations no longer have just one chance to get it right — the fact base of a story and insight into the issues can evolve and improve over time with more reporting. Stories on the Web are not etched in stone — they can be updated continuously.
The Times asserts that journalism is about asking the right questions — the unedited comments in Google News will likely prompt journalists who embrace the new continuous, dynamic process of journalism to ask more questions of those involved, dig deeper, and do more great reporting.
Rather than see Google News comments as a threat, or something over THERE, outside journalism, news organizations and Web-savvy journalists should use it as a tool to enhance what they do. Instead of putting up more walls, news organizations need to see the Web as a network that they can harness.
Journalism needs to get plugged into the network, not operate in a vacuum.