Saturday, June 18, 2005

Generalists are not enough. Journalists have to be the experts

Often you hear that journalism is in the midst of a transformation, as momentous as the invention of the telegraph or television. The report The State of the News Media 2005 does claim this. There are some very interesting observations and conclusions.

The models of journalism are growing towards the faster, looser, and cheaper. Interestingly the blogosphere, while adding the richness of citizen voices, expands a culture where information is offered with little time and little attempt to independently verify its degree of truth. Most of the bloggers have no knowledge of criticism of the sources, journalism etc. Often they only express their opinion. Sometimes well-founded, sometimes not. (note: the report is on the U.S. media. The Swedish blogs are mostly liberal political. There are few, if any Swedish blogs on other subjects like technology).

The philosophy is: publish anything, especially points of view, and the reporting and verification will occur afterward in the response of fellow bloggers. The result is sometimes true and sometimes false. All this makes it easier for those who would manipulate public opinion – government, interest groups and corporations – to deliver unchecked messages, through independent outlets or their own faux-news Web sites, text news releases and paid commentators.

The overwhelming majority of Americans say they prefer independent, non-partisan news media. So do advertisers and investors. But of course. People maybe don’t know anything, but they are not stupid. If we have to choose between a lie and the truth, we choose the truth. (The report also shows that distrusting the news media does not correlate to how or whether people use it. Those who distrust the media are often heavier consumers of news outlets than those who are more trusting.)

To adapt to this new situation, journalists have to make their work more transparent and be the experts. They must help citizens discover what to believe and what to disbelieve – a shift from the role of gatekeeper to that of authenticator or referee; from reporting to commentating. The era of “trust-me journalism” has passed, and the era of “show-me journalism” has begun.

This raises some important issues. News organizations must document their reporting process more openly so that audiences can decide for themselves whether to trust it. To be competitive journalists must be the experts. Knowledge is the key to journalistic integrity.

Since citizens nowadays have a deeper range of information at their fingertips, the level of proof in the press must rise accordingly. Talented generalists are not enough. Such changes will require experimentation, investment, vision and a reorganization of the newsroom.

The report concludes: “Today, technology is transforming citizens from passive consumers of news produced by professionals, into active participants who can assemble their own journalism from disparate elements. As people “Google” for information, graze across an infinite array of outlets, read blogs or write them, they are becoming their own editors, researchers, and even correspondents. What was called journalism is only one part of the mix, and its role as intermediary and verifier, like the roles of other civic institutions, is weakening. We are witnessing the rise of a new and more active kind of American citizenship – with new responsibilities that are only beginning to be considered.

In this new world, we continue to believe journalism is not becoming irrelevant. The need to know what is true is all the greater, but discerning and communicating it is more difficult.”

A summary is found here:

The report is an annual yearly report on the state of American journalism. It is produced by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, an initiative by journalists to clarify and raise the standards of American journalism and an institute affiliated with the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

The report spot the trends in US journalism concerning news papers, magazines, TV, cable, local TV, Internet Radio, and alternative media. For each of the media sectors, the study examines six different areas: content, audience trends, economics, ownership, newsroom investment and public attitudes.