Calling bloggers “amateur” misses the point entirely

Few things irritate me like the use of the term “professional” as it relates to contemporary journalism. John Podhoretz wrote a nice little piece for the New York Post about blogging and made some interesting points. Some of his positions are argumentative, but one sentence crosses my line and reveals much.

The success of the Swift-boat vets’ ads is the tale of the triumph of the nation’s alternative media. The mainstreamers didn’t want to touch the story with a 10-foot pole, and they didn’t. But the alternative media did. Amateur reporters and fact-gatherers offered independent substantiation for some of the charges. It turned out the criticisms of the Swifties weren’t quite so easily dismissed.
Here the term “amateur” isn’t so much pejorative as it is defining. Bloggers aren’t professional reporters, so they must be amateurs. Let’s follow this thinking a little further.

By definition, a professional is a person who gets paid for their specified activity, and an amateur is somebody who doesn’t get paid. Implicit in this is the assumption that anybody who’s not getting paid has a lesser degree of skill, for after all, if they HAD the skill, they’d get paid, right? It’s incomprehensible to us, for example, that Bobby Jones didn’t “turn professional” and get paid for his great skill at the game of golf.

The term “professional” also applies to a person who is part of a profession, which is further defined as a vocation or calling — especially learned or scientific. The profession itself determines who’s qualified to be a member of the club. Sometimes it’s a license. Sometimes it’s education.

I do not believe the term should be applied to the news business, and the fact that the press considers itself a profession is at the heart of the loss of the public trust. It suggests a separateness, a pedestal from which “professionals” are given special insight into truth. But journalism is not a profession — it’s a trade. And it’s best practiced by those who live and breathe among everyday people, not those who dine at the table of power. We owe the fruit of a “professional” press to Walter Lippmann and his Creel Committee cronies, who manipulated the culture to suit their own ends. As Chris Lasch so brilliantly noted, the decline in participation in the political process in the U.S. can be directly tied to a rise in the professionalization of the press. Lippmann didn’t believe people were capable of governing themselves in any walk of life and needed an educated élite to do the job for them. Thus was born journalism’s artifical hegemony — objectivity. But I digress.

When people like Mr. Podhoretz put bloggers in the category of “amateur,” they not only do a disservice to the movement, but they reveal that they can’t possibly understand the phenomenon whatsoever. Blogging may be many things, but one thing it is not is a group of wannabe amateurs posing as the press. Unfortunately, only those with eyes to see can see this, and the mainstream press is still largely left in the dark.

Repurposing news and programming content

Cable networks are finding value in repurposing their content for a Video-On-Demand (VOD) world. TV Week (Free registration required) reports on efforts by The Discovery Channel and The Learning Channel, but it seems everybody’s getting into the game.

As content proliferates on multiple platforms-from the mother ship of linear television to the emerging media offspring of broadband, video-on-demand and wireless-content providers are mining their cutting-room-floor footage and recycling, repurposing and reusing material across the new screens.

As a result, many networks are in the embryonic stages of determining how to rejigger their production and shooting schedules, and more important, whether such changes can yet be monetized.

The key is to shoot smarter, said Channing Dawson, senior VP, emerging media, Scripps Networks. “We are starting down the road of how to model financially, how to handle the shooting and the logistics. How do you piggyback production so you can produce five three-minute pieces for broadband or VOD in an additional three hours? Do you set up as a separate shoot or a piggyback shoot?” he asked.

While there isn’t much demand for this at the local level (yet), the market for VOD is virtually limitless. Broadband television is tomorrow’s cable TV, something smart producers have already recognized. Broadcasters should be paying attention too.

Three cheers for Independence Air

It’s a beautiful night in New York, and I’m looking forward to my meeting tomorrow. This was my first experience with Independence Air, and I gotta tell ya — it’s the bomb! Friendly, hip, clean, quick, new jets, comfortable seating, no frills, great Website, and very, very affordable. I will use them again. Imagine getting a round trip ticket Nashville to New York for $425 with one day’s notice! If you have need to easily move about east of the Mississippi (they’re based at Dulles in D.C.), I strongly recommend you try Independence Air.

New York Bound

I’ll be out of the office for the next couple of days meeting with a client in New York. I’m flying into Kennedy this trip. If you’re ever in LaGuardia, check out the display case in the terminal of items you can’t take on a plane with you. The chainsaw always makes me smile.

Today’s RSS is yesterday’s “smart filter”

When this comes to pass — and come it will! — then they will know that a prophet has been among them. Eze 33:33

Tech prophet Frank Catalano has republished an essay written in 1991 that introduced the idea of “smart filters” for consumers getting news. Can anybody say RSS?

While the technological future appears bright for news junkies, as with duct tape and the Force, there is both a light side and a dark side. Will, for example, people hear the things they need to know, as well as the things they want to hear? It’s pretty difficult these days to tune out news about a Presidential election, or a major poisoning scare. But if your smart filter has been expressly told to ignore news items of general interest, will you hear about them other than over the office water cooler? Will it be too late to respond properly? Might not a national government require certain news items get a “universal” tag to make sure every filter puts it through?
This essay also uses the phrase “Democratization of Information,” about which I now write daily. Good stuff. I hope to meet the prophet in November at Bloggercon III.

10 Questions for Peggy Phillip

Here’s a fun little interview with Peggy Phillip, news director of WMC-TV in Memphis and likely the first blogger in the local TV news business. She began blogging two years ago and ran into intense criticism from colleagues and observers. Her blog is still going strong today, and while I’d to see her take the step of including comments from users, I do enjoy her insightful — and sometimes biting — comments.

10 Questions for Peggy Phillip