I've just arrived in Paris where I'll be participating in Les Blogs, the French blogging conference organized by my friend Loic Lemeur. The program looks like a lot of fun, with some of the usual suspects plus some others I look forward to meeting. I hope this conference will help me learn more about the Western European blogging scene, and hopefully to enlist the help of some European bloggers in Global Voices. So far we have not had much focus on Western Europe because at least in the early stages of GV we've felt strongly that our priorities - given our very limited resources - initially needed to be elsewhere. But it would be valuable to get more European voices and I hope we'll get some volunteers. So far, our efforts to recruit Western European bloggers haven't met with much response. Maybe that's because - unlike many Middle Eastern bloggers - they don't feel so misrepresented by the international media, or are more focused on their own communities, or don't feel so much of a need to engage the broader world outside Western Europe and the U.S.? I look forward to hearing what people have to say on that score.
My panel, not surprisingly, will be on "citizen journalism and mainstream media." I'll be talking a bit about Global Voices, and how I prefer to call it "citizens' media" rather than "citizens journalism," because while some of the blogs we link to are written by journalists and or people who are holding themselves to journalistic standards, many others are simply trying to engage the world in conversation about issues and events they care about. They are not fact-checking and researching. They don't necessarily want or aspire to be held to journalistic standards, but their voices are I believe important to listen to and engage with nonetheless. We'll be delving much more deeply into that conversation at the Global Voices London Summit on December 10th.
Meanwhile, on the subject of journalism and the future of professional news media, I thought I would share part of a letter I wrote last week about howjournalism schools need to change:
I did not go to journalism school myself, and have long questioned the relevance of journalism school - especially in this day and age when most faculty are teaching nearly-extinct formats and often know less about the latest information technologies than their students. However I think we have entered a phase of unique opportunity.
Technology has now evolved to the point at which the most interesting innovations are happening at the edges: users experimenting with open-source software and creating "hacks" that enable them do what they want. Craigslist is just one example of the way in which jobs of mainstream journalists are being affected by innovation at the edges. As Craig Newmark describes it, all he did originally was to create an online "list of stuff" that he and his friends found useful. If Craig can create a revolution in classified advertising with a simple website, why can't journalism students be the source of the next big innovations in news? They can, and they should, if journalism schools would support and encourage them in doing so. Journalism schools should be the R&D centers to which news organizations turn for fresh ideas, and from which new journalistic ventures are launched.
Increasingly, people who want to do quality journalism are having to create - or initiate the creation of - their own jobs. Those who wait to be handed something and then cling to it for dear life amidst constant fear of being cut in the next downsizing usually wind up being mediocre journalists at best. Positions of dependency, perceptions that there are no other job options, and feelings of helplessness are a major reason why today's journalists cave in to editors' demands for info-tainment and piffle, in lieu of supplying fellow citizens with the information they need in order to avoid being duped by politicians.
Journalism schools need to teach students to be more entrepreneurial, and disabuse them of the belief that they will be able to count on a full-time steady job at a single news organization for long periods of time. Freelancing and frequent job-hopping are now the norm. This can be a liberating and empowering situation if one does not fear it and knows how to take advantage of it. To be better equipped for the future, students must learn how to develop their own journalistic credibility and reputations for excellence which they can carry from employer to employer - or from freelance gig to freelance gig. They also need to equip themselves with specialized knowledge and distinctive styles so that they can stand out from the crowd and make themselves uniquely valuable.
Amidst all this change, I believe that the fundamentals of good journalism remain timeless. Fundamentals like good storytelling, a sense of fairness, clear writing and speaking, being able to pinpoint what is really "new" about an event or issue, asking the tough questions, getting past the spin, speaking truth to power, and doing all of this in a way that will get people's attention and make people likely to remember what you're telling them. Fundamentals that serve the ultimate point
of journalism, which, as Tom Rosenstiel and Bill Kovach put it, should be to provide
citizens with the information they need to be self-governing. ...
...There is tremendous opportunity amidst the crisis our profession now faces - and which broadcast journalism faces most acutely. We live in exciting times. Rarely do young people have such a chance to transform and re-energize our profession.
American journalism is in crisis. What a wonderful opportunity we now have to rethink the whole industry. The question is: Even if journalism schools do train the future's journalists to innovate and think outside the box, will today's news organizations be prepared or willing to take advantage of their fresh ideas?