News is a conversation (redux)

Jay Rosen offers an interesting piece over at Press Think called “Why Do We Suck? and Other Questions Political Journalists Asked Themselves at YearlyKos.” With a title like that, it’s gotta be good, right?

It doesn’t disappoint, and it reinforces what I’ve been picking up all over the place — that the awakening of journalists to what’s taking place around them is accelerating. Even two years ago, we would never have heard Big J journalists speaking the way many are today. Jay’s essay is an analysis of YearlyKos, a conference of liberal political bloggers held last week in Chicago.

Michael Scherer of Salon was in Chicago. He wrote about an expected “confrontation between the crusty old mainstream media and the tough and truth-telling blogosphere” that didn’t really happen. (It was a panel with Glenn Greenwald of Salon, Mike Allen of The Politico, Jay Carney of Time and Jill Filipovic of Feministe, overseen by Ari Berman of The Nation.) “At a few points, the crowd tried to get a fight started, by [asking] questions that amounted to “Why do you reporters suck so bad?”

A few years ago he and his peers would have made fun of this. Now? “I can say with authority that a lot of political reporters these days are thinking about it pretty closely.” Imagine that: introspection among journalists along the lines of…Why do we suck so badly?

Like other reporters, I don’t always agree with the criticisms, but I take them seriously. I try to avoid repeating my mistakes and I try to get better with each story. But the attacks on me and other writers signal something much bigger than just my work… Simply put, news is no longer a one-way process. It is now much more of a conversation between journalist and reader. Reporters at major news organizations no longer have the omnipotent authority they once had. The news process, in a word, has been democratized.

Wow. That’s quite an admission from the expensive seats.

It reminded me of an essay I wrote in January of 2004 called “News is a Conversation” that didn’t make me the most popular kid on the block, but its themes and conclusions are reflected above.

The editorial process certainly has its place in world of journalism, and as a recent commenter on my own blog pointed out, bloggers feed off the work of mainstream journalists. There is a symbiotic relationship between the two, and I’m certainly not suggesting one will replace the other. There is, however, a reformation underway, and while nobody knows exactly how it’s going to play out, I think it’ll be good for everybody in the end. Bloggers, who don’t necessarily care, will find validation in the journalism world, and mainstream news people will be forced to stop giving only lip service to interacting with their audiences.

And instead of turning to élite experts to guide us and solve all our problems, we might actually find that the answers we seek are with the people out here pounding the pavement and living the life that those experts only touch from a distance.

Wouldn’t that be something?

The truth that’s being revealed to professional journos is but a small glimpse of what I think is coming, for we are on a road of adventure and creative explosion that will rewrite the rules of contemporary journalism. A good story in the hands of a good storyteller will always draw a crowd, but the notion that all the good storytellers work in professional journalism is clearly coming apart.

And more importantly, the great awakening — as Dan Gillmor so brilliantly stated years ago — that “the readers know more than I do” is reaching places I could only imagine a few years ago.

That means good things for our trade and a bright future indeed.


  1. Terry,

    I’ve always thought that Dan Gillmor really meant “some readers know more than I do.” With unlilmited time, as a reporter, I can get to them all and incorporate their points in a story, and with umlimited space, I can just list the transcript.

    Even then, it is the “incorporating” — and its expression: the story — that will continue to offend. Yet that act has to remain central to what journalism is, to its core value. Or we will yield to software-driven “incorporations:” RSS descendants based on whatever contextual switches we decide to flip, or get flipped for us by trusted FB friends, or by Google pattern-reading sprites. It really is all about trust, or rather the lack thereof, between the practiioners and the consumers, which has turned easy-to-use web-based personal journals into the blogosphere.

    The resulting rearranged relationships alone makes the future unclear. Toss in a few essential questions, beginning with how the practice will be financed, how constitutional protections built on institutional histories will remain protected, and not least whether or not the populace really gives a damn.

    Not that any of this is a snap. It is important to ensure that the objectives of American journalism are maintained.

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