The production line has been replaced by a network
The problem is that most media organisations still think they are manufacturing cars, and they still see journalists as part of an internal production line.
Even the most progressive simply expect existing staff to become multiskilled multiplatform journalists, doing more work – but still on the same production line.
But we can redraw that diagram of the overlapping of newsgathering, production and distribution as a network diagram. And the problem with the production line approach becomes more apparent.
The news industry is caught trying to straddle the gap between the physical, and the digital.
It also highlights an opportunity for new, collaborative ways of organising production.
Who’s doing this already? Well Simon Rogers at The Guardian is doing it with their data blog. Talking Points Memo do it with their operation. Slashdot do it with technology news, Global Voices with international news. Reed Business Information do it with Farmers Weekly.
Most other traditional news organisations that try to do this immediately hit a cultural problem. Many journalists would like to see themselves like Clark Kent.
But most people see journalists like this:
Now, wanting to be a great journalist and wanting to create great journalism used to amount to the same thing.
But in a networked world, those two desires can come into conflict. And as journalists it is our egos that are our biggest weakness.
It is ego that leads us to report on a story without linking to our sources.
It is ego that prevents us from reading the comments on our articles and updating the original accordingly.
And it is ego that leads us to ask questions like ‘Is blogging journalism?’ or its latest variant: ‘Is Twitter journalism?’
Asking ‘Is blogging journalism?’ is like asking ‘Is ice cream strawberry?’
It is to allocate qualities to technology that it simply doesn’t have. Is writing journalism? Is printing journalism? Is broadcasting journalism?
In the 19th century Soren Kierkegaard made the same mistake when he said of newspapers that:
“It is frightful that someone who is no one… can set any error into circulation with no thought of responsibility & with the aid of this dreadful disproportioned means of communication”
And 50 years ago journalists were making statements like this:
“TV newspeople … have the intellectual depth of hamsters. TV news can only present the “bare bones” of a story”
In my first class here at City a student asked why they should waste time engaging with people online. I rather testily replied ‘Why publish your work at all? Why bother dealing with editors and subs and your colleagues? Why bother talking to sources and experts? Why not keep your precious piece of journalism locked away in your basement where it will never be sullied by the dirty gaze of other people? If you don’t want to engage with people, write fiction.
But if you want to tell great stories – and have them be heard;
if you want to hold power to account – and have power listen;
if you want to empower readers and viewers and listeners, then you have to engage with them.
It is the height of arrogance to believe your journalism cannot be improved, and it is the height of ignorance to fail to care if anyone engages with the issue you are reporting on.