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Journalism: Not Dead After All!

October 7, 2009

Contrary to what I wrote last week, the news is still good for news, just not for newspapers.   Up until I finished this week’s reading, I considered newspapers and journalism to be synonymous terms, but now I see it’s more like how squares are rectangles but rectangles are not squares.   Journalism is more than newspapers, and that’s an important distinction to make.

This week’s reading examined different models of journalism in the digital age.   The Rosenberg, Michel, and Andersen pieces really changed my ideas about public interest in information.  I used to think that most people were perfectly content not worrying about what was happening beyond their immediate environments (an attitude I probably developed during my angsty, high school years when that was probably true) but when I think about twelve thousand people volunteering with OffTheBus–not just reading it, it makes me realize that people aren’t what they were when I was 16.  All those people  volunteering for OTB or sifting through documents for The Guardian are committed (at least in principle) to putting out accurate information; granted, they are a small fraction of the global population, but certainly larger than I anticipated.   Then I think about the explosion of the blogosphere and the numbers of people flocking to blogs for information and I realize that people do want a fuller picture of the truth. In short, I feel more optimistic this week.

The way we develop  that truth is an interesting question, too.  The piece on sharesleuth brings up an old debate about people making money off of public goods–are they doing good if they’re doing it with a profit motive?  I’m of the opinion that if Cuban and Carey are reliable, accurate, and fair in their investigation, then it doesn’t matter if Cuban makes money off of the endeavor.  As Carey says,   “…in a world where investigative journalism is being abandoned because it is costly and risky, I think we’re doing a public service.”

As a student in the HGSE Technology, Innovation and Education program, we talk a lot about “new media literacy” in the sense that we must teach students the skills and knowledge needed to deepen learning through networked collaboration.  This is important, but I think we should also focus on teaching kids to understand their role in our fragmented media world.  If citizen journalism is one of the viable journalism models for the future, then we need to start teaching kids the importance of civic engagement in this context and how to be responsible citizen journalists.  We also need to teach kids to be discerning consumers of media.  The 1,000 True Fans piece provides good perspective on how we can define success in the digital age–we don’t need blockbuster sellouts, we just need 1,000 true fans.  At the  same time, the notion of “diehard fans” reminds me of a talk Ethan Zuckerman gave at Brown in 2008 warning about the dangers of homophily.  Growing up in Ohio, I knew a lot of diehard fans of Fox News.  Granted, you could be a diehard fan of news sources from many different political perspectives, but I think that’s a decision people have to make consciously–that is, we need to understand what we’re getting ourselves into.

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