The mistaken view of the replaceniks

Nobody's out to replace the pressSince even before the first blogs were launched at the end of the last century, the professional press has reacted largely from a fear that media in the hands of amateurs was some kind of direct attack on journalism — that there was some cosmic conspiracy to replace them like a worn out light bulb. This has always been to miss the forest for the trees, but the idea rages on all these years later, and the most amazing thing to those of us who’ve observed all this is how otherwise normally intelligent people can continue to perpetuate the myth. NYU professor, author, blogger and philosopher Jay Rosen calls these people “replaceniks:“The replaceniks are people who ask if new media *replaces* the old. They claim lots of us believe it will, which is bull.”

The extent to which this myth lives on is astonishing. Sunday, for example, was “The Fat Lady Has Not Sung: Why the Internet Needs the News Day” sponsored by the Association of American Editorial Cartoonist (AAEC).

Courtesy Phil Hands, Madison.comAt, Wisconsin State Journal editorial cartoonist Phil Hands produced this cartoon and wrote: “Without newspapers there wouldn’t be a good platform for my cartoons, and without good reporting of serious news, I’d be stuck drawing cartoons about the latest YouTube video of a baby saying something cute.

“But more importantly, without credible news about current events, gathered by journalists and vetted by editors, we would have an uninformed electorate and our democracy would suffer…even more.”

It’s hard to disagree with that, but here’s the thing. Nobody does, which makes the statement seem absurd to those of us who are paying attention. There’s no question the newspaper industry is in trouble, but it’s not being caused by everyday people taking up arms against them. It’s a vastly complex matter that has much more to do with the revolution in advertising on top of a troubled economy than it does the content produced by amateurs.

Courtesy, Steve Breen, San Diego Union TribuneWriting on the topic last year (Academics measure new media (again) by old-media yardstick), Steve Buttry summed up what many think:

For academics studying whether “citizen journalism” is going to “replace” traditional journalism, let me save you some time: It won’t. It’s not trying to. It shouldn’t.

Journalism is not, never has been and should not become a zero-sum game…

…The title of a report on the study by Missouri School of Journalism researchers Margaret Duffy, Esther Thorson and Mi Jahng describes the flawed premise: “Comparing Legacy News Sites with Citizen News and Blog Sites: Where’s the Best Journalism?

The two should not — and actually can not — be compared, for they are apples and oranges. Jay Rosen told me via email that the real danger of making the comparison is that it keeps people from asking the right questions, and he has some advice for all replaceniks.

Once you get rid of the image of replacement you have to start asking yourself useful questions like, “what’s different about digital?” or “what do these people who participate in social media get from it?” or “what’s really new here?” Or: “why does everything feel so disrupted?” Those are better questions than, “is this going to replace.…?” They take you farther.

There’s no question that personal media is disrupting many things in our culture today, even and perhaps especially media. The ability for people to talk to each other and back up to any hierarchical authority will change life in the West forever, but the thought that so-called “citizens media” or the tools of personal media are in it to “replace” anything is simply untrue. The role of the pro may be evolving, but it’s not going anywhere, especially away.

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