Jarvis: Journo Jive Adjustment

Networked journalism (Buzzmachine LLC): Jeff Jarvis, professional content management consultant, proposes a modified redefinition of journalism for “this new era of news.”

Personally, I’m not going to be satisfied until Jeff unbrands himself as a “buzz” machinist —

buzz noun a confusion of activity and gossip

Main Entry: 2buzz
Function: noun
1 : a persistent vibratory sound
2 a : a confused murmur b : RUMOR, GOSSIP c : a flurry of activity d : FAD, CRAZE e : speculative or excited talk or attention relating especially to a new or forthcoming product or event <one of the few new shows that’s getting good buzzTV Guide>; also : an instance of such talk or attention <their first CD created a huge buzz>
3 : a signal conveyed by buzzer; specifically : a telephone call
4 : HIGH 4

— and starts work on straight-through processing for fact discovery and information quality assurance algorithms that work to reduce the amount of noise in the circuit.

I think a better term for what I’ve been calling “citizen journalism” might be “networked journalism.”

“Networked journalism” takes into account the collaborative nature of journalism now: professionals and amateurs working together to get the real story, linking to each other across brands and old boundaries to share facts, questions, answers, ideas, perspectives. It recognizes the complex relationships that will make news. And it focuses on the process more than the product.

I carry some of the blame for pushing “citizens’ media” and “citizen journalism” as terms to describe the phenomenon we are witnessing in this new era of news. Many of us were never satisfied with the terms, and for good reason. They imply that the actor defines the act and that’s not true in a time when anyone can make journalism.

Okay: anyone who practices journalism, whether they are paid for it or not, is a journalist. But this begs the question of what it means to practice journalism.

I submit that what it means is a shared commitment to the institutions of journalism, the “work rules” (J.R. Commons) that journalists have evolved over the years, through dialogue and negotation, to efficiently filter out bias and promote a densely factual style of reporting while working for peanuts under deadly deadline pressure.

You can call these “ethics” or you can call them “information quality-assurance business processes,” if you like. I think of it as “applied epistemology.” But it amounts to the same thing.

This also divides journalism into distinct camps, which only prolongs a problem of professional journalism — its separation from its public (as Jay Rosen points out).

Jeff, like many other blog industrialists, continues to conflate the distinct roles of management and labor in the news business — not to mention their indefensible and willfully stupid conflation of “the media” with “journalism,” as xxxxx notes.

What mainly separates journalists from their publics are co-opted editors living in the twilight zone between the newsroom and the realm of the MBA “content managers” and publishers.

If the basic institutions of journalism have eroded since the golden age of Murrow — if it really was a golden age — it’s because of a drastic shift in the balance of power between commercial pressures and traditional journalistic “work rules,” leading to drastic erosions of rank-and-file journalists’ professional autonomy and right to collective self-governance.

In addition, many professional journalists have objected that these terms imply that they are not acting as citizens themselves — and, indeed, I believe that the more that journalists behave like citizens, the stronger their journalism will be.

In networked journalism, the public can get involved in a story before it is reported, contributing facts, questions, and suggestions. The journalists can rely on the public to help report the story; we’ll see more and more of that, I trust.

The public, in its role as a primary source of news, has always played that role.

Personal electronic publishing has removed many barriers to entry in that respect — but not the need to treat bloggers the same as any other source, according to the same tried and tested rule: “If your mother says she loves you, get a second source.”

Personal electronic publishing, and the shift to online news publication, has removed barriers to entry on the letters and public commentary page as well, since column inches cost an arm and a leg but the amount of screen real estate that can be dedicated to reader contributions is limited only by the reader’s attention span.

But I still say that does not imply that the role of reader and journalist have undergone the kind of profound structural metamorphosis touted by the blog industrialists.

The reporter is still the hard-driving person who spends 24-7 finding stuff out, and sifting the wheat from the chaff, so you don’t have to do it yourself.

The journalists can and should link to other work on the same story, to source material, and perhaps blog posts from the sources (see: Mark Cuban).

After the story is published — online, in print, wherever — the public can continue to contribute corrections, questions, facts, and perspective … not to mention promotion via links. I hope this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy as journalists realize that they are less the manufacturers of news than the moderators of conversations that get to the news.

That job description is for a content-manager, not for a “traditional” line or section editor.

To the extent that public discontent with the so-called MSM stems from the sense that the media is not doing this job, then it is indeed a very good thing that more citizens can hold it to account by pointing out where it falls short of its stated values.

I think everyone should adopt an individual reporter they admire — I have many — and a reporter they find lacking — my bete noir is the New York Times’ Larry Rohter — and follow their work the way teenage girls follow … whatever music acts it is that teenage girls follow these days.

Our goal: Move the complacent Rolodex and cocktail-party journos — the Journeys of the profession — out of the way, making room for fresh talent currently showing massive moxie on the police blotter or the dreaded Albany beat.

Remember that Judy Miller started out on the SEC beat, but lobbied to get off it because it was too boring. That’s not the kind of attitude we need.

We need people who, assigned to cover the soap-powder industry, are capable of developing a passion for the aesthetics, geopolitics and culture of soap-powder.

See also the opening scenes of Hitchcock’s Foreign Correspondent.

But the notion that news publications can do less with more by filling up their content hole with user-contributed buzz — well, nothing pisses me off more mightily, both as a freelance journalist and as a vigilante information consumer.

It’s the moral equivalent of feeding chickens with feed containing chicken parts from the rendering plant. It’s unhealthy.

Soylent Green is people.

I’m constantly saying it, but I’ll say it again: The content of “news content” is reporting — excavating facts and extracting the petrified bone from the surround mud and crud with delicacy, care, and diligence.

The economics of that kind of content can be summed up in the dictum, “Time is money, because life is short.”

The content managers apply this dictum to the content supply side.

I apply it to the content consumption and demand side, and point out that it is reporting, not churned “news content,” that we vigilante news consumers want.

Yes, there are other journalistic genres — editorials, features, lifestyle reporting, and so on — but ideally those genres are additive to and build off the foundation of best-practice reporting.

The content of a good editorial is opinion based on the established facts, for instance — or at least on an informed debate over potential facts whose validity is in question, based on what little is firmly known.

That’s what makes the recent conduct of the W$J editorial board so totally outrageous.

When there’s so much buzz these days about the “economics of attention” and the economic effects of “information overload,” how hard is it to understand the value of the service provided by informed, experienced, professionally skeptical reporters who make their living following a given topic 24-7-365 for years and years?

They have programmed their wetware patiently in order to be ready to direct your attention to the essential facts when you need them, sparing you the time and effort of having to wade through all the noise.

To continue to suggest otherwise, as the blogging industrialists do? They must be totally buzzed (definition 2) on something.

And if you think NMM Business Continuity is journalism, you must be high.

It’s just a gathering of random jottings from the newsflow that stand to real legwork journalism as Oulipo — the “potential literature” movement — stands to “real” literature.

Hopefully, there is some real journalism, captured from the outflow of raw infosewage, in here somewhere, waiting to be distilled and refined with actual legwork.

But I’m only going to have time to run it through the alembic of critical reasoning, incurring transportation and telecom costs in the process, when I’m not too busy doing other things to keep the cat fed.

Perhaps it does have the virtue, as the Buzzmachinist argues, of opening up the process to public view.

I’ve at least tried to be candid about how, as an editor, I make editorial decisions, based on the best practices of my profession, under real-life pressures. Sometimes you have to make them for stupid reasons, or new reason at all — or simply because the time allotted for your decision-support process has been cut to the bone, along with your staff.
After all, NMM Slogan No. 7 reads “focus on processes rather than products.” And that goes just as much for “buzz” — the manufacturing of attention and consent — as it does for Buzz Cola.

See also Mass-Sourcing Killed the Unionist Star, The 3rd-World State of the 4th Estate, and my institutional analysis of the Center for Citizen Media.

The League of Limited-Liability Content Strategy Consultancies. Click to zoom


One thought on “Jarvis: Journo Jive Adjustment

  1. Pingback: NMM Business Continuity » Blog Archive » Ten Years After

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