Thursday, September 09, 2010

Rosen's suggestions for young journalsts worth reading

Jay Rosen has posted a speech he gave to incoming journalism students in Paris.

It is well worth reading and letting what he says roll around the crevices of your brain.

There's a lot packed in here, from the usual numbered list of advice points to the larger subtext of journalism and its relationship to the growth and evolution of the public sphere. I agree with Rosen (see the comments) that one of his most telling comments is thus:

Seeing people as masses is the art in which the mass media, and professional media people, specialized during their profitable 150-year run (1850 to 2000). But now we can see that this was actually an interval, a phase, during which the tools for reaching the public were placed in increasingly concentrated hands. Professional journalism, which dates from the 1920s, has lived its entire life during this phase, but let me say it again: this is what your generation has a chance to break free from. The journalists formerly known as the media can make the break by learning to specialize in a different art: seeing people as a public, empowered to make media themselves.

It's a struggle I still see playing out in newsrooms and the halls of academe - this struggle to break free of all the conventions, traditions and shibboleths of "mass" media - how many schools still have "mass" in their names, for instance? One reason it's difficult is that "mass" is the way money was made and remains how most of it is made (both in business and academe). How do you transition from that when a review of business history shows that we - meaning business generally, and even society - are not that good at transitioning and seem to respond better to disruptive change?

(The evolutionary life cycle of social, political or business change might well be plotted as a series of saw teeth, with disruption or crisis bringing about massive change which then, over time, flattens out as it is interpreted, implemented and modified until it reaches a sort of steady state paralysis until the next disruptive event. One can even look at the recent health care debate and passage of the federal plan through that context. For instance, the GOP already is foreshadowing a repeal effort if it retakes Congress, but those who observe and interpret such things rather widely seem to indicate they expect less success in such radical reversal and more in steady modifications and adjustments to what has been passed.)

Rosen, when challenged in the comments, readily acknowledges he does not know how to economically support journalism. And maybe we are destined for another interregnum of turmoil, economic turmoil being part of that, much as existed after Gutenberg and his printing press, until there was settlement on common forms (the book and newspaper as we generally know it) and social conventions (such as the mere concept of one-to-many distribution and that of the mass audience) surrounding this technology. (One could argue that those conventions were already in place with the coming of radio and TV, and thus the introduction of those media was not as immediately disruptive.)

Rosen, with a depth missing from many such analyses, provides a lot to chew on here. I'd recommend starting with point seven:

Your authority starts with, “I’m there, you’re not, let me tell you about it.” If "anyone" can produce media and share it with the world, what makes the pro journalist special, or worth listening to? Not the press card, not the by-line, not the fact of employment by a major media company. None of that. The most reliable source of authority for a professional journalist will continue to be what James W. Carey called "the idea of a report." That's when you can truthfully say to the users, "I'm there, you're not, let me tell you about it."  Or, "I was at the demonstration, you weren't, let me tell you how the cops behaved." Or, altering my formula slightly, "I interviewed the workers who were on that oil drilling platform when it exploded, you didn't, let me tell you what they said."  Or, "I reviewed those documents, you didn't, let me tell you what I found." Your authority begins when you do the work. If an amateur or a blogger does the work, the same authority is earned. Seeing people as a public means granting that without rancor.

Your authority begins when you do the work. It's not a novel idea, though it may seem so in this day and age.

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