(Funny that my last post was on having bloggers block and tonight this is pouring out of me. I guess I needed to clear my throat. I don’t want to be an annoying pontificator. As I said in my last post – I want to be on the front lines of all this. I’m a grunt, at best a squad leader. But to do so – I often need a clear vision of where and why I’m doing Spot.Us. If anything – this is an invocation to myself).
I bring him up because most of what I will write below has been written by him in Twitter form. “The rallying cry isn’t ‘save newspapers’ but ‘save society.'”
Journalism is a loaded term. Defining it at times feels like counting how many angels can stand on the tip of a needle.
Much easier is articulating the goals of journalism. At its best the aim is “to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.” This is one of my favorite quotes on the purpose of journalism. Another is “to speak truth to power.” I’m sure others exist. What’s your favorite?
Journalism as a word is loaded because of the ministry it invokes. The profession that, since Watergate, has laid claim to it. That ministry is now a diaspora. Much like after the Gutenberg revolution the ministry lost its authority in interpreting the bible. Martin Luther showed us how. In reaction many journalists cling even tighter to that word.
But the word needs to be redefined.
I go back to Henry Jenkins who pinpointed why I dislike the term “citizen journalism.”
In some respects I dislike the term “journalism.” (My take on The Rhetoric of Journalism.)
Now before you get your tar and feather – hear me out.
I love the idea of speaking truth to power. I love the idea of afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted. I love the idea of communities informing themselves so they can make better decisions.
Journalism does this – but if we didn’t call it “Journalism” (with a big J) would it make any difference? What is at stake here isn’t an industry. Yes, it’s sad to lose an industry. We lost the button making industry when plastic button making machines were made. That was sad. We lost the horse shoe making industry when cars replaced horses. We have probably lost countless industries due to technical innovations.
But did we lose clothes? Did we lose the freedom to travel? Has our general progress as a world been forward towards more freedom and democracy? What is bad for newspapers might be good for the word (Yes – putting content online for free has caused economic problems for newspapers – but it has made mankind better).
And while we may be losing something in terms of robustness of newspapers we are gaining something new with citizen media (there’s that term again?!?).
People wonder if citizen journalism can replace professionals. That’s the WRONG QUESTION.
The silliness of that question: If Major League Baseball stopped tomorrow would all the little leagues in the country be able to replace it? If industrial sweater factories shut down tomorrow would knitting hobbyists be able to replace them?
Nobody would ever ask these questions because the goal of little leagues and knitting groups isn’t to replace their professional counterparts. Instead, they are to create a sense of community, a positive activity for children. If these non-professional activities disappeared could they be replaced? Could professional baseball play the role of the local little league?
So I ask: If citizen journalism activities were to stop tomorrow could professional journalists replace them?
Do I really dislike the term “journalism” – of course not. But it is so incredibly loaded. In another post we could discuss how it needs a re-branding (which is doubly-ironic, I know). We discuss this craft but readers don’t care what we call it. They care about whether it “speaks truth to power, afflicts the comfortable, informs them, etc” That newspaper circulation has been going down since 1972 (well before the Internet) should say something to us all.
What we need to preserve isn’t newspapers. I’d argue it isn’t even “journalism” as we understand it. What we need to save is something else. Something more fundamental. The ability for communities to be informed with honest information and then to mobilize based on that information.
And that’s all I really have to say about that….