June 27, 2006
The People Formerly Known as the Audience
That's what I call them. Recently I received this statement.
The people formerly known as the audience wish to inform media people of our existence, and of a shift in power that goes with the platform shift you’ve all heard about.
Think of passengers on your ship who got a boat of their own. The writing readers. The viewers who picked up a camera. The formerly atomized listeners who with modest effort can connect with each other and gain the means to speak— to the world, as it were.
Now we understand that met with ringing statements like these many media people want to cry out in the name of reason herself: If all would speak who shall be left to listen? Can you at least tell us that?
The people formerly known as the audience do not believe this problem—too many speakers!—is our problem. Now for anyone in your circle still wondering who we are, a formal definition might go like this:
The people formerly known as the audience are those who were on the receiving end of a media system that ran one way, in a broadcasting pattern, with high entry fees and a few firms competing to speak very loudly while the rest of the population listened in isolation from one another— and who today are not in a situation like that at all.
- Once they were your printing presses; now that humble device, the blog, has given the press to us. That’s why blogs have been called little First Amendment machines. They extend freedom of the press to more actors.
- Once it was your radio station, broadcasting on your frequency. Now that brilliant invention, podcasting, gives radio to us. And we have found more uses for it than you did.
- Shooting, editing and distributing video once belonged to you, Big Media. Only you could afford to reach a TV audience built in your own image. Now video is coming into the user’s hands, and audience-building by former members of the audience is alive and well on the Web.
- You were once (exclusively) the editors of the news, choosing what ran on the front page. Now we can edit the news, and our choices send items to our own front pages.
- A highly centralized media system had connected people “up” to big social agencies and centers of power but not “across” to each other. Now the horizontal flow, citizen-to-citizen, is as real and consequential as the vertical one.
The “former audience” is Dan Gillmor’s term for us. (He’s one of our discoverers and champions.) It refers to the owners and operators of tools that were one exclusively used by media people to capture and hold their attention.
Jeff Jarvis, a former media executive, has written a law about us. “Give the people control of media, they will use it. The corollary: Don’t give the people control of media, and you will lose. Whenever citizens can exercise control, they will.”
Look, media people. We are still perfectly content to listen to our radios while driving, sit passively in the darkness of the local multiplex, watch TV while motionless and glassy-eyed in bed, and read silently to ourselves as we always have.
Should we attend the theatre, we are unlikely to storm the stage for purposes of putting on our own production. We feel there is nothing wrong with old style, one-way, top-down media consumption. Big Media pleasures will not be denied us. You provide them, we’ll consume them and you can have yourselves a nice little business.
But we’re not on your clock any more. Tom Curley, CEO of the Associated Press, has explained this to his people. “The users are deciding what the point of their engagement will be — what application, what device, what time, what place.”
We graduate from wanting media when we want it, to wanting it without the filler, to wanting media to be way better than it is, to publishing and broadcasting ourselves when it meets a need or sounds like fun.
Mark Thompson, director general of the BBC, has a term for us: The Active Audience (“who doesn’t want to just sit there but to take part, debate, create, communicate, share.”)
Another of your big shots, Rupert Murdoch, told American newspaper editors about us: “They want control over their media, instead of being controlled by it.”
Dave Winer, one of the founders of blogging, said it back in 1994: “Once the users take control, they never give it back.”
Online, we tend to form user communities around our favorite spaces. Tom Glocer, head of your Reuters, recognized it: “If you want to attract a community around you, you must offer them something original and of a quality that they can react to and incorporate in their creative work.”
We think you’re getting the idea, media people. If not from us, then from your own kind describing the same shifts.
The people formerly known as the audience would like to say a special word to those working in the media who, in the intensity of their commercial vision, had taken to calling us “eyeballs,” as in: “There is always a new challenge coming along for the eyeballs of our customers.” (John Fithian, president of the National Association of Theater Owners in the U.S.)
Or: “We already own the eyeballs on the television screen. We want to make sure we own the eyeballs on the computer screen.” (Ann Kirschner, vice president for programming and media development for the National Football League.)
Fithian, Kirschner and company should know that such fantastic delusions (“we own the eyeballs…”) were the historical products of a media system that gave its operators an exaggerated sense of their own power and mastery over others. New media is undoing all that, which makes us smile.
You don’t own the eyeballs. You don’t own the press, which is now divided into pro and amateur zones. You don’t control production on the new platform, which isn’t one-way. There’s a new balance of power between you and us.
The people formerly known as the audience are simply the public made realer, less fictional, more able, less predictable. You should welcome that, media people. But whether you do or not we want you to know we’re here.
After Matter: Notes, reactions & links
Check this out: The People formerly known as The Congregation (March 28, 2007.) Revises and extends my remarks into the situation with organized religion today…
We are The People formerly known as The Congregation. We have not stopped loving the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Nor do we avoid “the assembling of the saints.” We just don’t assemble under your supposed leadership. We meet in coffee shops, around dinner tables, in the parks and on the streets.
Caused quite a stir online too.
I have been using the phrase, the people formerly known as the audience, for a while. But I had never tried to define it. This post came out of reflections after BloggerCon IV (June 23-24, “empowering the users”) and in anticipation of the Media Giraffe conference (June 28-July 1, “Sharing News & Information in a Connected World”) but also in the course of writing Web Users Open the Gates (Washingtonpost.com, June 19).
Google Blog Search for the phrase “people formerly known as the audience.” Regular ‘ol Google Search for the phrase.
“Guys, citizen’s media isn’t fairy dust that you can sprinkle on an existing program and make it magically interactive, bloggy and web 2.0 compliant.” Ethan Zuckerman is talking to American Public Media’s “Marketplace” on how not to approach the former audience:
So let’s get this straight - Marketplace isn’t able to answer email from listeners, even when those listeners are offering to help them work on getting a former contributor out of prison. But Marketplace is interested in having me fill out a 19-field form so they can contact me via email and, if neccesary, call me for a quick soundbyte on an upcoming story.
Dave Winer gets lyrical at Scripting News (July 1):
We live in the age that Emerson predicted, self-reliance. Make your own music and your own products. Everyone gets to be creative. The brains are in what we used to call the audience. No more looking up to the ivory tower for all fulfillment. Thank god we don’t all have to be as beautiful as Farah Fawcett and Christopher Reeve. Everyone gets to sing. Users and developers party together.
Amy Gahran at Poynter about TPFKATA: “Seriously: News pros should be watching and joining this conversation.” Amy also points to a BlogPulse tool for tracking the ripples outward from this post.
Ripple: At the Associated Press Managing Editors website, Mark Briggs of the (Tacoma, WA) News Tribune says to fellow editors:
You need to read the post – and the comments – to understand what is happening “out there.” The audience is off the sidelines and in the game and is going to play. It’s up to you to play with it in a way that benefits everyone.
They used to be our most loyal customers. Fine Young Journalist, commenting on this study by a Harvard master’s student (“Emerging Collaborative News Models and the Future of News”) says about the users of Digg.com, Slashdot.org and other wisdom-of-the-crowd sites… “These aren’t just the people formerly known as the audience, they’re the people formerly known as our audience.”
Should you be in the immediate vicinity, I will be performing this post on Nantucket Island, July 26 at Nantucket Antheneum (8:00-9:30 pm, Great Hall) as part of the Geschke Lecture Series. If you are a blogger and want to attend, e-mail me.
Doc Searls is right that power “shifting,” while crudely accurate, is less than apt for my case. Power is expanding and dispersing because broader participation makes for a “bigger” press. Doc:
The expansion of authorship from few to many is a postive-sum development. So is the expansion of authority and influence that naturally grows in a market constantly enlarged by broader participation, and not merely by a growing choice of “content.”
There are lots of ways for “old” media to adapt to the new system. “Unfortunately, few or none of them are in the toolboxes of the old system.” Read his response to TPFKATA. And Doc returns to the subject here.
Ripples… Stowe Boyd: “Once power migrates to the edge, the edglings are unlikely to give it back.”
Jeremie at Temporally Relevant likes the term: “To be an edgling is to share and participate with your peers through open technology.”
Stowe Boyd’s follow-up post, Edglings: A Well-Ordered Humanism and The Future Of Everything (July 11).
Personally, I favor the term Edgling because I want to move away from media metaphors, and use economic or sociological ones. This is not about who is “producing content” and who is “consuming” it: which is the basic paradigm of media thinking. Instead, it is about control moving from the central, large, mass-market organizations — which includes media companies, but also other large organizations, like government, religious organizations, and so on — out to the individuals — we, the people — at the edge.
As power moves from the center to the edge the “Centroids” — those that hold with the centralized power of an industrial era — will scream about all the negatives that they perceive in the out-of-control future that threatens the basis of their worldview. But the Edglings will find it liberating to get out of the stranglehold on information, communication, and the marketplace that centralized organizations attempt to impose.
The Edglings vs. the Centroids. I like it.
“The concept of audience remains valid.” At First Draft, Tim Porter responds to this post:
We are all each other’s audience. A good listener is an audience. So is a critic. Or someone who clicks on someone else’s Flickr photo. The publisher-audience relationship remains, but today it is a loop, not a pipe.
I agree with Tim. The audience hasn’t “gone away.” Porter: “The ‘audience’ is out there. Journalists need to be out there, too.”
Here’s the link to a French translation of this post: Le peuple jadis connu sous le nom d’audience. And here’s a response in French to the French translation.
Other reactions of note:
- Ulises Ali Mejias of Teachers College at Columbia University: “Are we really talking about a community of producers, or a mass of producers? Put differently: Is production the new consumption? My argument is that TPFKATA function as a mass of producers…” (And see this Doc Searls reply to Mejias.)
- Young PR professional Jeffrey Team at Inside the Cubicle: “Well Jay, the demise of the audience is not confined to journalism, it is pervasive in all communications…I am on a personal crusade to get the public relations industry to move away from the term target audience and instead think about communities of interest.”
- Independent journalist Dave LaFontaine: “I can’t help but notice that when it comes to the actual, hard data on what sites people spend the majority of their time at … well, folks, it’s the Usual Suspects. Big media.”
- Dave Cormier at his Education blog: “The revolution, if there is ever to be one, is going to take years of concerted effort. I applaud Mr. Rosen for his manifesto, I worry that too many people think we have already won.”
- Andrew Cline at Rhetorica: “Exactly who are these people? It seems to me they are not the majority that makes up the semi-fictional ‘mass’ audience or the thing called ‘the public’ that so interested John Dewey and Walter Lippmann.”
- Tom Matrullo at IMproPRieTies: “There is much to be said for the repeating of a theme or set of key ideas, encoded in such a way as both to pique attention and to convey to the already clued-in that a certain set of assumptions about speaking, writing, community formation, were in play, harboring large shifts in power, control, and dominance.”
- Jon Husband at Wierarchy: “I notice two things …1 … the antibodies and immune system are really big, and are spread out everywhere; 2 … in addition to rejecting the foreign substance/bodies/players, the extant system is also trying to swallow ‘it’ … eat it so that the fever will be killed.”
Scott Walters asks how this post connects to the world of theatre, while elearnspace says, “I’m waiting for a similar announcement from learners in corporate and higher education,” and this blog (“advocacy strategy for the age of connectivity”) says “Rosen’s riff on the Audience is directly related to the way advocacy and organizing groups think about members and supporters.”
J-school student Ryan Sholin imagines a career path in journalism starting with “the community editor’s position.”
Wherein it’s my job to bootstrap the newspaper’s online connections to local bloggers and community members, launch hyperlocal sites comprised mostly of stories written by The People Formerly Known As The Audience, and manage them. This means learning some more web design and coding to modify some existing open source software, but the hard part is getting the community (and the editors) to see your newspaper as a place for participation.
From the incomparable Cursor, Media Patrol column, June 27 edition:
A new hire by Sen. Hillary Clinton, “to help improve [her] image among liberal bloggers,” is called “a major coup.”
Whereas to Billmon’s eye, ‘The Swiftboating of Kos’ is “starting to look more and more like a coordinated effort,” Ralph Nader finds that “after a while a chronically humorous way of looking at politics becomes a distraction,” as the nation’s political life assumes the binary position year after year.
A Texas governor’s race poll finds incumbent Gov. Rick Perry leading the pack — and Independent candidate Kinky Friedman in second place.
As Fox News employees are allowed to hear the whip cracking, ‘The People Formerly Known as the Audience’ proclaim “a shift in power that goes with the platform shift you’ve heard about.”
The Economist in April 2006:
Almost everywhere, download speeds (from the internet to the user) are many times faster than upload speeds (from user to network). This is because the corporate giants that built these pipes assumed that the internet would simply be another distribution pipe for themselves or their partners in the media industry. Even today, they can barely conceive of a scenario in which users might put as much into the network as they take out.
Exactly this, however, is starting to happen.
Seth Finkelstein dissents in the comments at Dan Gillmor’s blog:
Dan, we’re still the audience. If you don’t like my comment, you can personally attack me to a number of readers that is orders of magnitude more than I could realistically reach myself. I have no effective way to reply. That’s “audience”.
If I do volunteer journalism, but it is not propagated by A-list gatekeepers, and not appealing enough for the popular sites, it’ll be ignored. That’s “audience”.
And what happens if the professional journalist just doesn’t care if he or she gets it wrong, as long as it brings in the crowd? That’s “audience”.
Like the news media, Seth is an inflater of the balloons he pops. He refutes propositions I haven’t made: that the audience is no more, that media power has been equalized.
As I wrote in the comments to another poster:
The post I wrote does not say “the people” have the power now, and the media lost theirs. It says there’s been a shift in power. (And there has, but only a partial one.) It also speaks of a new “balance of power,” which is another way of talking about a limited change.
I’m not claiming that the power shift is total, or even decisive. Only that it’s signficant, and changes the equation.
Exclusive influence, monopoly position, the right to dictate terms, dynastic continuity, priestly authority, guild conditions for limiting competition— these have been lost, not the entrenched media’s social and market power, which as you say remain considerable.
Don’t miss the comments to this post.
Posted by Jay Rosen at June 27, 2006 1:26 AM
This piece on media cluelessness on the religion beat was pretty entertaining - and a good example of why "The People Formerly Known as the Audience" (PFKA (TM)) have increasingly had it with the media.
Picture this scene. A flock of Pentecostal Christians has gathered at the U.S. Capitol for yet another prayer rally about sex, abortion, family values and the public square.
"At times, the mood turned hostile toward the lawmakers in the stately white building behind the stage," wrote The Washington Post in its coverage of the event. Then, without explanation, the story offered this on-stage quotation from a religious broadcaster: "Let's pray that God will slay everyone in the Capitol."
Slay what? Clearly, the reporters didn't know about the experience that Pentecostal Christians call being "slain in the Holy Spirit," in which they believe they are transformed by a surge of God's power. The result was a journalistic train wreck that ended up in the book The Elements of Journalism: What Newspeople Should Know and the Public Should Expect.
"The problem," wrote authors Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel, "was that the reporters didn't know, didn't have any Pentecostals in the newsroom to ask, and was perhaps too anxious for a 'holy sh-t' story to double-check with someone afterward whether the broadcaster was really advocating the murder of the entire Congress." This mistake made "a strong case for the need for humility" at the news desk, they said.
A blog/commentary-friendly platform on the Web would go a long way towards ensuring such stupidy was quickly and soundly corrected.
Of course, few newspapers have thus far embraced the technology. I mean, really - why does someone else have to put together something like The Annotated Times (sadly, no longer running, it seems) or the single paper equivalent of memeorandum?
Just as important, though, hiring editors need to look beyond their bean-counting approach to diversity and reach out to new segments of the PFTA - that is to say, "Americans."
Bias is a problem. But, in my experience, apathy and ignorance cause most of these laugh-to-keep-from-crying gaffes. It would help if newsroom executives spent more time thinking about intellectual, cultural and even spiritual diversity, in addition to focusing on gender, race and class.
Preach it, brother!
really great post, Jay! (looking fwd to seeing you later tonight at MGP, btw....)
What's come to my attention lately, though, is how many established newspapers and big media enterprises want to incorporate "citizen journalism" under their auspices--and that this might not serve the best interests of c.j.'s nor their communities...
Perhaps rather than being part of a local paper's web presence, citizen journalism might need to watchdog local media--as much as efforts like TPM watchdog Big Media. But if the established--and more easily located-- local "citizen journalism" is folded into the local paper's web presence (for whatever motive), where there is usually some editorial oversight, some c.j. stories might end up receiving an editorial spin much like the Front Page...
If that's the case, who are the c.j. posts serving? the community or the status quo? And if they're serving the status quo, isn't that defeating the purpose of people participating in media endeavors?
Further, what about the possibility of c.j's being used as "stringers" for the newsroom? There's potential for that to happen in almost any combined citj/establishment enterprise. Is that even ethical? Some might argue "yes" because the citizens are not true journalists, but that's specious reasoning.
The people may have the power, but who, really, might up with the control?
I don't mind the idea of journalists mentoring citizens in the practice of journalism (if they would like that mentoring) but when does mentoring become control?
I really hate to be the one playing devil's advocate, but sometimes one has to look at how the best intentions could lead straight back to the same old same old.
Anne and pluk, you illustrate my larger point perfectly.
I you say "I've been convicted" in a public space, everyone is going to assume that you have been convicted of a crime.
No, they wouldn't. If I said so in the context of an evangelical rally, for example - or even simply talking about a sermon at a mainstream Protestant worship service with other churchgoers, that would not be the case at all.
The fact that you have trouble grasping that is illustrative of the larger point - you lack the cultural information to make sense of the term, and would therefore have screwed it up had you reported on it.
On the micro level, that's not a terrible thing: I wouldn't expect the reflexively secular liberal to catch the use of the term in that context.
The problem arises when you have entire newsrooms full of people with the same outlook, and so nobody is capable of understanding it. And then assigning one of those people to the religion beat - which is how you get journalism laugh lines like "assault ministry," uncritical reporting on Al Gore's "where your heart is, there is your treasure also" (It should be obvious why Gore flunked out of divinity school), and most notoriously, "Poor, uneducated, and easy to command."
. It is not the responsibility of the press to understand your personal jargon
Except that it's not my personal jargon, but a very common expression. Just not in your limited circles. Actually, I haven't heard it in some time in Florida. I heard it a lot in Tennessee.
If you're going to cover the religion beat, it sure as hell IS the responsibility of the press to understand the language of the community. Actually, I would consider it to be a very basic responsibility of the reporter covering the beat.
You might want to make excuses for your ignorance, but you'd have to pay for that a lot by showing up in the corrections section. The fact that you resent having to learn it is telling.
words have meaning
Yes, they do. Too bad you don't understand them.
and when you use words in public spaces, you are responsible for those words.
Funny. Everyone else at the rally seemed to understand what "slay" meant. "Slain in the spirit" is a very common expression, with 5.4 million hits on Google.
The reporter at that rally, apparently, was the only knucklehead who didn't get it. Now who's the "uneducated" one?
It isn't the responsibility of the press to take special steps to understand you mean by "convicted"
Yes, it is. That is, if the mainstream press is not the intended audience to begin with, and if the press is starting out from a position of ignorance (not a bad assumption on the religion and military beats alike), then the reporter ought to take some time to educate himself in the field. At the very least, to doublecheck what he thinks he's hearing with someone who's not starting from a position of ignorance. Unfortunately, because of the lack of ideological diversity in newsrooms, he can't rely on his editors and colleagues for that very fundamental check and balance.
Simply put, if the reporter thinks it's not his responsibility to understand, then he should be fired, and replaced with someone who's either better educated, or a bit more curious.
Certainly not me, So let's end the suspense, sweetie -- what are you talking about ?
Darlin', if you don't already know, you just prove my point.
Here's a couple of passages from Father Richard John Neuhaus in First Things: the Journal of Religion, Culture and Public Life:
An eager young thing with a national paper was interviewing me about yet another instance of political corruption. “Is this something new?” she asked. “No,” I said, “it’s been around ever since that unfortunate afternoon in the garden.” There was a long pause and then she asked, “What garden was that?” It was touching.
"uneducated," indeed. And this is from a national.
What prompts me to mention this today is that I’m just off the phone with a reporter from the same national paper. He’s doing a story on Pope Benedict’s new encyclical. In the course of discussing the pontificate, I referred to the pope as the bishop of Rome. “That raises an interesting point,” he said. “Is it unusual that this pope is also the bishop of Rome?”
Actually, I believe historically, they practice what is known as "telecommunion."
He obviously thought he was on to a new angle. Once again, I tried to be gentle. Toward the end of our talk, he said with manifest sincerity, “My job is not only to get the story right but to explain what it means.” Ah yes, he is just the fellow to explain what this pontificate and the encyclical really mean. It is poignant.
Touching, indeed. Our national media is sending innocent kids out to write serious stories on religion when the only thing their fund of information equips them to write is stories along the lines of "So what's the deal with the Pope's funny hat?"
And even then they'd need a backgrounder.
You gonna cover the fish? I don't think it's unreasonable to expect reporters to learn to swim.
Obviously, you're going to have glitches and mistakes here and there. But when journalism pros make excuses for their ignorance - when they wave away atrocious reporting on a rally as if the bad reporting is somehow the fault of the participants - and when editors and reporters, collectively, are not only utterly clueless about religious communities, but are in abject denial about how ill-informed they are (when somehow a liberal education and four year degree didn't imbue one national reporter with the cultural knowledge to comprehend a reference to the Garden of Eden), then there aren't going to be any meaningful improvements made.
The republic is not well-served by lousy quality control such as this. And it is not well-served by the cultural inbreeding that dominates our newsrooms, and makes Pauline Kael syndrome possible.
For those not in the know, Pauline Kael was a longtime film critic in New York. When Nixon slaughtered McGovern in the most lopsided, decisive election in living memory in 1972, Kael, touchingly, said "How can this be? I don't know a single person who voted for him!"
The fact that such an inbred, monolithic, homogenous culture is even possible in a national news organization ought to be a mark of shame for the big-city journalist community. It should have been corrected long ago.
You'd still have the occasional munchkin asking "What garden was that?" But the errors would be a lot less likely to see print.
Assault ministry, indeed.
More here, and a modest proposal:
I propose, for starters, that from now on editors assign religion stories only to reporters who know religion just as well as their publication's political reporters know politics and their sports reporters know sports.
Sounds reasonable to me.
But wait! Plukasiak thinks it's not a journalist's responsibility to "take special steps" in order learn the language and terminology of his beat!
I guess we're going to have to have a good purging of the ranks before we're intellectually equipped to take that little measure.
I'm not mocking simple inexperience, vemrion. And notice I'm not naming names - the experts rolling their eyes at the doe-eyed dorks calling them up from the nation's newsrooms are mercifully keeping the names of the reporters involved to themselves.
Rather, I'm mocking the willful embrace of ignorance and inexperience - which is itself rooted in the atrocious cultural skewing evident in newsroom demographics.
Jason: your tactics are getting tiresome. Proving that journalists don't know squid about crab... tiresome. Also fishy.
Nathan: I loved, "We must exclude someone from our gathering, or we shall be left with nothing." I think it is very apt. Professional journalists often fail to appreciate how deeply they identify against rather than with the public. It doesn't sound as noble (the "against" part) but it's actually crucial to professional identity.
David Remnick, if you ask him about editing the New Yorker, says he doesn't take orders from readers, and wouldn't. He's suspicious of giving the readers what they want. I worry about pleasing myself, he says. If I didn't, I'd wind up with a really bad magazine, he says.
By identify against I also mean they build up their professional selves by contrasting the disciplined practices of a pro journalist to what's normally expected of sloppy, biased, overly passionate or easily distracted civilians, your average Joe and Jane.
For example: "You Howard Deaniacs out there, you are interesting people to write about; you see just one side of the issues, and that's fine... for you. We're journalists and we'd like to be passionate too, but we have to see both sides of the issues. You don't. You do understand that, right...?"
And it's a short step from there to defining yourself by formula. In order for me to be the balanced pro I need you to be the imbalanced partisan. Sometimes these needs can get out of hand.
Thus, Nathan says of his shop: "What makes our journalists resistant to buying into digital and two-way mediums is exactly that fear: that by welcoming strange, new things into our space we diminish our own sense of what we are."
The people in the audience are supposed to stay in their seats. That's what many journalists feel about what's called the read-write-Web. Stay in your seats. Stay where we put you.
Of course some don't feel that way. (An outstanding example of one.) They welcome the writing readers because they know if they don't they can't really welcome the read-write-Web into their journalism.
your long-held position in advocacy of cultural and ideological diversity in newsroom hiring is stipulated.
Only on paper. It's easy to pay lip service to "diversity," as long as it doesn't mean anything.
Cultural and ideological diversity in newsroom hiring makes sense because it improves coverage. Lack of it, therefore, is a problem. But there are still a number of people who deny, for example, that it's a problem, or who think they're "middle of the road," because everyone in their upper west side apartment elevator agrees with them (HAR!) or who think they're "under no obligation to make a special effort" to understand their beats.
It's stipulated by Siegal, no doubt. And it's further stipulated by Bill Kovach & Tom Rosenstiel and others on paper. I've seen both Jay Rosen and Dan Okrent stipulate to it, on paper or on digits. At least in theory.
But then there's the other camp, which regards any criticism from outside the Cool Kid's Club as partisan sniping - and who are so paranoid that any critic of the Fourth Estate might have, somewhere in the mists of time, voted Republican, and will grasp at that straw or any other to resort to ad hominems as a desperate means of avoiding the issues.
Until that's resolved, and the lip service paid to diverse demographics is translated into staffing, all the interactivity in the world will do little more than highlight the shortcomings of the current model, and at best improve coverage through the threat of embarrassment.
Or, to paraphrase Moore, to what extent will the PFKA be so atomized and riven along ideological lines that not only will the professionals lack ideological diversity but the amateurs too?
I think the danger of that is very real. It's already happened in the blogosphere. 85-90% of my commenters and emailers agree with me. That's no good. I have to come here to get good game!
It's already happening in the book publishing world, too. Someone published a terrific infographic somewhere (which I can't find now) depicting just how predictive of future book sales past books are - and how unlikely it is that anyone who ever purchased a Rush Limbaugh book will ever purchase one from Markos Zounigas or Bill Press or anyone else who falls under the left column.
It's going to take a long time. But we need to hold j-school students - and ALL liberal studies students - to a higher standard of rigorousness, and expect them to hold a broader fund of information than we do today, where national news outlets are content to hire people who don't know what a Purple Heart is, and have to ask questions like "What garden was that?"
Until the intellectually lightweight Old Guard is purged, all the interactivity in the world will be nothing more than a ring in the snout of a pig.
I made a crass comment, and that left me wide open for criticism. I'll accept it. I was running off to the conference this morning and hammered it out. This post, by contrast, has taken me an hour to research and write.
To start: let's get serious about the echo-chamber effect here. Technorati reports 46 references to Public Interest Journalism, Minnesota Public Radio's revolutionary project over the last three years, building a social network of 19,000 sources of listeners through out the state. Here's an article in Current which discusses it.
This post alone has 62 references.
Do other people sense an imbalance here?
Dan Conover, I can't speak for a colleague of one of your colleagues, but Jay's quoted the heads of AP, Reuters, News Corp, BBC (as well as the usual blogheads) from the last 2 years or so. I can't imagine this is truly news. The actual details of the PIJ model, on the other hand, are very new and worthy of inspection.
Jay, maybe you feel it's a conflict-of-interst if you write up people you advise. But there's not even a list of people you advise here. That would be interesting enough.
Let's consider that other chestnut: "my readers know more than me." I'm going to avoid that value judgment. I don't know more than you, Jay; I'm really an amateur here. I have learned from you, reading your 1999 book. Perhaps it's better to say, "My readers possess knowledge of facts pertinent to the story that I haven't reported on."
Ok, so what's the next step? Does the publisher/author/reporter include those in the follow-up? How long a period do you give for comments? Do you write a second version? Write another piece? Who evaluates whether these facts are indeed pertinent? How do we measure this? Are some publishes/authors/reporters better than others at getting the facts first? If some constantly need backfilling of pertinent facts, do the readers stay with them?
When you originally wrote about My Readers Know More Than I Do 18 months ago, you mentioned an experiment in open source journalism (back in 1999!) between Jane's Intelligence Review and Slashdot. Jane's solicited feedback from the Slashdot audience and ended up re-writing the article from scratch.
It's a difficult project to do in a competitive industry, but that's not a problem for PressThink. It seems to me like a good, open model to embrace here ("Having introduced the PFKA concept 18 months ago, I'm curious what you my readers have to add...")
I'm not jonesing for an inclusion of MPR/PIJ because I have an interest in it. What piqued my interest my Michael Skoler giving a stellar presentation here at MediaGiraffe (FTR, Fabrice did as well, but his project is still in pilot phase). And I just think it tells your story best about your audience shift concept.
We need more muslims in the news rooms so that we can have a more informed discourse on islam, and more atheists in the newsrooms to inform us on the ills of religion, and ....
In fact, we should use statistical sampling theory and design newsrooms as microcosms ....
Hmm. Maybe. Maybe not. In some cases, you could solve the reporting issues by hiring more well rounded people.
If you were going to turn newsrooms into something approaching a sociological index of U.S. Demographics, I suspect we would need fewer atheists, not more.
Are we really screwing up reporting on Islam that much? I would have to assume so, but I don't think we report on Islam as a faith very much at all.
Do we need to index? Well, I invest that way - and it is, I believe, the best way to invest, and there are mathematical and logical reasons why it works - some of which could be applied, broadly speaking, to newsrooms. Concepts like eliminating tracking error, etc.
It's not necessary to be a woman to report on women's issues, though. And it's not necessary to be a veteran to report on military issues. It helps, certainly, but Joe Galloway, the watermelon-smashing author of "We Were Soldiers, Once, and Young" is not a veteran, as far as i know, and does a great job.
It IS necessary to respect your beat, and to do your homework, whatever your beat is.
And so I don't think we need to create artificial hiring programs so much as remove the artificial barriers to entry into the field from other professions.
And fire the people who think reporters "aren't obligated to make a special effort."
That attitude is pure poison.
The fight between journalists and their readers -- some of whom are bloggers -- reminds me of Marx's observation that races and classes fight it out with each other, and are distracted while the wealthy and powerful walk off with the spoils. But let's not get into a discussion about Marx; let's just use that as a jumping off point to get into the facts.
Today, large national media companies are publically traded companies and under tremendous pressure to cut costs. Usually the biggest line item at a media company is payroll. So, newsrooms experience layoffs. With a few exceptions, journalism isn't well paid, and the only way to get a raise or to advance in a career is to leave your current job and get another one, which means that many papers simply don't have the kind of people who have been in one place for many years to accumulate local and/or "beat" knowledge.
I'm sure everybody who reads PressThink has heard the "publically traded media companies are in tough shape" spiel. What might be less familiar is the plight of privately owned newspapers. In cases where newspapers or other media companies are not publically owned, the picture is often even worse. While there are a small number of family-owned newspapers and newspaper chains, most smaller newspapers and chains that serve suburbs (read: where the majority of Americans live) are heavily in debt to private equity firms. These PE firms bankroll what used to be family-owned newspapers with millions in cash and encourage them to become mini media moguls, buying up other local papers.
But PE firms aren't like a bank that holds a mortgage on a house: they typically want their money back in anywhere from 3-7 years, and with a VERY BIG PROFIT.
The only way to get this profit is to make the chain attractive to a public company or another set of private equity investors.
And the only way to do that is cut, cut, cut.
As a result, where I live, local papers usually only have one reporter. As a blogger I'm not even outnumbered by the local paper (though, note, we have been extroardinarily fortunate in the reporters who we have had over the years).
The chain that owns my local paper was recently sold from one group of PE investors to another, for an estimated profit of $85mm. That's money that didn't go into the newsrooms. And now that they're with another PE firm, will there be another round of cuts to flip the chain again? I hope not, but what are they going to do, hold it out of charity? The PE firm's money often comes from pension funds, and they'll be wanting it back. As a result, even when papers are profitable they are *still* under pressure to make more cuts to justify a high sale price of the whole chain to another investment group.
What's happening is that equity investment is strip-mining American newspapers. And it shows.
Frankly I'm often amazed at what journalists do manage to do given what they're working with. And the economic picture is not getting better: it's getting worse.
I wrote a story about the saga of my local newspaper's involvement with chains and private equity called The Long Strange Trip of Grandma's Nickel.
Hue writes "The publisher of PressThink has a day job."
This, today, is the critical difference between journalists and the TPFAKA. The journalists have day jobs, ones which pay them to find and report on facts.
TPFAKA, such as myself, rarely have the time (or the credentials, but that's another discussion) to use primary news sources, except in those cases when we happen to be or be assoiated with those sources (as I was in the 2004 presidential campaign).
So a question is: are there enough TPFAKA members that in aggregate they have access to the raw information? If so, some method of organization could allow them to do the entire job of journalism (the editing and distribution already have some obvious solutions).
The Command Post was an experiment in something closely related. We had enough contributors that when just about any media outlet reported new facts, we had a TPFAKA member who heard/read it and published it on the board. In that sense, this news aggregator was providing the first notice of news facts to many journalistic organizations (CNN reportedly had a Command Post page up continuously during OIF).
If TPFKATA do not have access to the facts, they still have a role to play: sanity checking and the assignment of importance. Traditional MSM has little sanity checking in some areas (see Jason's complaints and ones I have made in previous threads), and has little feedback on its prioritization of stories.
TPFKATA bloggers have changed this already. Stupid or erroneous reports, on subjects of interest, are challenged and those challenges reach the widely read blogs, ultimately impacting the author (ask Dan Rather and crew for an extreme case). Agenda setting (such as the Times' failed attempt to stir up a national furor over a golf club not admitting women) and prioritization can also be affected by TPFKATA bloggers. KOS or Instapundit or Drudge can move stories from the back page to the front.
Hue, I agree. I am not what you might call a "blog triumphalist." I think it would be terrible if our local newspaper failed. However, there are already places where this is happening, as in Mankato, MN, where the local newspaper, in trouble, bought by someone who cared but didn't have the resources to keep it going on paper, now publishes exclusively online. In those cases, online publishing serves a role similar to that of a volunteer fire corps -- perhaps not as well trained or equipped as a professional urban force, but quite a bit better than nothing, and they still put out fires.
As to there not being enough of me, well, I am flattered. But in my town of 32,000, there only needs to be one.
Now, as to the economics. I have no better ideas than anyone else inside the media world or out of it as to how to make content pay for itself online. Local sites in particular are very poorly served by online ad networks such as Adsense, run by Google. Most blogs that are a commercial success are very "keyword friendly," that is, they focus on topics that have high pay-per-click rates for advertisements (think gadget blogs like Engadget, or Gizmodo).
Local news blogs that cover a geographic area are a response in large part to the economics of local media, not the content of local media -- it's become increasingly difficult to support local news on paper in its current form, and online publishing represents a radically low-cost way to distribute information. (It costs me $40 a month to run H2otown. Google ads pay for this and my coffeeshop tab).
One thing that is true is that the web has a very poor sense of physical location. There are few automated ways to tell if a blog post is written from a particular geographic place, so there's no way for ad networks to hook on to local advertisement. Even when they do text search, that can be faulty (Watertown, for example, is a very common place-name). I think that this will change -- mapping, increasing GPS technology, and widespread wi-fi enabling location-awareness will make localizing ads possible.
We have local blogs today because the tools for multiuser sites and aggregation are now low cost or free. When (if? I am still on the when side of this fence, I think) ad technology adapts to localism, it will make what we have now look like nothing. More than likely, the beneficiaries of this will be newspapers with good online operations.
Oh, and Hue, there is a third option: newspapers held as a public trust, as the excellent St. Petersburg Times is in Florida. Maybe once the PE firms get done with the local papers -- once the last one holding the hot potato gets burned -- this will happen, much in the way the Philly papers are undergoing a transition from publically traded control to local control (though not a trust).
Longevity is also an interesting question and one I think about a lot. H2otown is actually modeled on a voluntary organization, and not on a newspaper business. When I look around, the organizations that are more than 100 years old where I live are churches, fraternal organizations, the YMCA. Not businesses. I figure the only way H2otown will outlive me, or continue to survive if I couldn't do it, is to make it useful enough to a community of people that they could pick it up after I was gone. That means I must make them my peers in a meaningful way today -- I let them post stories just like I do -- and cultivate a sense of ownership among my fellow participants. Voluntary organizations tend to survive by keeping costs as low as possible and creating structures to allow easy succession.
Also, I think it's meaningful to make a distinction between national or regional media -- which I agree, will remain a business for a long time -- and local media, which business is either squeezing or abandoning. Let me be clear: I don't think blogs are going to replace the NYT or CNN any time soon. But they already are replacing local news outlets in very small communities that can't support a newspaper but still need news to serve a civic function.
It has occurred to me that journalism is a lot like writing software. That is, it's a preindustrial process, a craft. It's impossible to send out 100 reporters each to write one line of a story. In an industrial process, it is possible to break something into 100 individual jobs and end up with, say, a car at the end.
Software resists automation in much the same way and as a result has many of the same organizational features -- a guild-like structure by which knowledge is passed on and individual practicioners achieve mastery.
Software developers, however, have much more friendly relations with amateur and/or open source "hackers," in large part because they've found useful ways to work together. My husband, who is a professional programmer, uses open-source tools created by enthusiasts every day to create the for-profit products he makes. They are, in fact, invaluable to him (ask a programmer about how they would feel about losing, say, EMACS, or BIND).
In our previous discussion of "distributed newsgathering" we discussed stories that could be broken up into many pieces, but I suspect that there are many stories that can't be done in the distributed way. What's exciting about distributed newsgathering is that it makes the reporting of certain stories possible that were not possible using any other means.
Lisa, I just mean that are you are there in Watertown, but there might not be a Lisa Williams in, say, Mayberry, N.C. If you were living in New York City or Des Moines, you probably would still have a blog, covering your neighborhood or part of town.
I don't think there are good local blogs for every small town or even bigger cities across the country. Maybe I'm wrong. Do you communicate with similar bloggers like yourself or Anna Haynes? Is there such a network of bloggers writing about their local areas and politics?
If you were writing about golf or movies or national politics then your location doesn't matter.
Daniel Conover and I have traded e-mails about trusts (and the St. Pete) as preferred ownership. Steve Lopez at the LATimes has written columns, here and here, wishing for a Poynter in LA.
Joan Kroc left $200 million to NPR. With Bill Gates and Warren Buffett having philanthropic money burning holes in their pockets, the media and community representatives should lobby their foundations for some of that money.
Gannett, the most profitable and worse kind of publicly-traded owner, also has its foundation, the Freedom Forum, a tax spinoff. I wish that foundation can somehow funnel money back into the newspapers and communities it had strip-mined.
re: software developers versus open source journalism. Reporting and writing don't seem to lend itself to that kind of collaboration. It has to do with control. When I was a reporter, I never liked to be assigned a story with another reporter. One person has to take the lead and does basically all of the writing. The non-writer hands over notes and quotes. There is a huge imbalance even though the byline is shared.
Software and coding are more science and art (not to say journalism is art). Writers don't collaborate well. There are good reporting teams, but reporters (pros and amateurs) don't always work well on an ad hoc basis. Maybe that's why there are few open source projects so far. Or maybe the technology wasn't there. Software tools, however, can be tested, by simply running it. With journalism, you have to trust that the informating gathered is correct. Or spend a lot of time going back to verify.
And why is that if you point to what people in the audience can do, which is a statement about possibility, readers will "correct" you by saying that not everyone will do those things, which is a statement about probability, and thus not a correction to the first statement at all?
When you talk about possibility, don't you need to consider probability? If we say it's possible that Democrats will win a Congressional chamber this fall because of Bush's low approval rating, culture of corruption etc. Are we then not allowed to consider how probable that is with gerrymandered districts, power of incumbency and number of contested seats?
And why is it that if you point out there's a new balance of power between the people in the audience and Big Media, people rush to inform you that Big Media still has a good deal of power? Again, who in blazes said it didn't?
I think Steve's comment about Lisa's blog just sent the conversation into a different tangent, and we just referred to TPFKATA to stay on theme.
Feel free to delete any or all of this.
That is in fact one of my upcoming projects, to see exactly how many local newsblogs there are. I get email several times a week now, from someone in Duluth or a neighborhood of DC saying they are doing it too.
I notice that discussions about local newsbloggings often use the same few examples. I happen to be one of them, but the whole thing strikes me as unfair. I mean, how many of you have heard of HopNews, or the hilarious Swellesley report, for tony Wellesley, MA?
I suspect that there are way more local newsblogs than any of us realize.
What I would like to do is to make a huge list of them all, and an aggregator showing a live stream of news items from all of them, so we can get a sense of the rate of coverage and also similarities and differences in newsgathering techniques. I already have an OPML file of about 150 that I've gathered without really looking, and I already notice some interesting similarities between how these bloggers -- who don't know each other, generally -- go about doing their work.
Regarding the software vs. journalism thing, I think you're right. One thing the software guys have is a very easy to define separation of where "my stuff" ends and "their stuff" begins. It's highly modular. But they've had 30 years to get it right. At the beginning of modern software programming, it looked a lot more like contemporary journalism, where each program was built soup to nuts by one person or one small group of people.
One thing that's notable about software collaborations is that the open-source end of a collaboration is usually either a tool -- like an editor or add-ons to a programming language, or a platform -- like a web server, database, or operating system. The programmer then uses the freely-developed tools to build on top of the freely-developed platform.
Few for-profit software companies will throw themselves into building tools or platforms because it's a labor of love and hard to make money at.
Maybe that's how the relationship will develop: outsiders -- inspired hobbyists -- will build technological tools, and others will build platforms -- like databases. Then individual journalists will use these to write stories they couldn't have written before.
The nice thing about this arrangement is that it avoids the entanglement you were talking about. People who write software using free tools and platforms still have total ownership of what they develop with/on them. One thing that hasn't been worked out in the collaboration between journalists and nonjournalists is how to arrive at an arrangement that allows each party maximum freedom -- eg, they can each write what they want -- and maximum control -- eg, the journalist and their editor control what appears in the paper or the paper's website, while the blogger controls what happens on their blog. If you have the blogger writing on the newspaper website, both sides lose freedom and control.
I'm starting to think that general criticisms of journalism are really about asymmetric power.
A reporter and a blogger might have comparable levels of knowledge and talent and precision, and both now have access to readers/viewers.
But this equality breaks down when it comes to distribution: millions of people will read or hear about an NYT story, whereas an arguably better blog-based analysis might struggle to make its way into the discussion.
It's an element of Rollback: What gives you the right to ask these questions, set these agendas? The President says: Who elected you? Experts in various fields say "Why do you guys get to frame these stories?" Some of our best reporters can answer that pretty forcefully, but they're like a few really skilled 19th century cavalrymen individually charging against a line of modern machine guns.
Plus, I think we're missing a trick if we just view this question as political gamesmanship or blog jealousy. We're being asked: What special skills and qualifications do you have that justify all this mass-media power you've been given? And when we don't have a good answer for that, then people conclude that we don't deserve the power.
We see ourselves as one of the checks and balances on political power, and we are. What we are so slow to realize is that TPFKATA want checks and balances on media power, too. They can't know each of us personally. They need some way of knowing about us systematically.
If the question is, "How do we know that you are using this power properly?" then our answer is, "Well, trust us." Or: "We take this very seriously."
Which is, in a sense, like the White House saying "We know that we've got the country's best interests at heart, so we reject the notion that we have to play by your 'rules' and submit to checks and balances like warrants and laws passed by Congress." Press people correctly challenge that stance, because we're trained to recognize the value of checks and balances on power. But then we reject any type of systematic check and balance on our own power.
Having said all of this, I add a caveat to my own statement: There's a simple solution to every problem, and it's wrong. Yes, I think we need some kind of system that provides a C&B on mass media news power, but it is far easier for me to imagine the many ways that this could be done poorly (or with malicious intent) than the few ways that it could be done well.
Plus, I think we're missing a trick if we just view this question as political gamesmanship or blog jealousy.
Yes. When we start reading the situation as blogs *VS* traditional media we obscure everything we could ever learn about each other.
We're also creeping toward a very interesting topic: the role of assignments and deadlines (or lack thereof) in shaping what gets done. My sense is that the difference in style and output between the average local newsblog and the average local newspaper happens upstream of the person doing the writing.
And I don't think distributing editing power via a Digg-like infrastructure would really work. To me the big hurdle for a newsblog is the same as for a newspaper: consistency and comprehensiveness. No one would accept, "Oh, sorry, light newspaper for a week," from the NYT, nor would they accept reading it every day and missing an important national story like, say, Katrina. Getting it out on time, and being there for the important stories, is the major cause of TUMS consumption in newsrooms, I would guess.
This cohesiveness and comprehensiveness is an important feature of a news organization's product. Newsblogs either don't attempt it or go about producing it in a very different way than in a newsroom (I think, not being in a newsroom).
Yet sometimes the story-idea-to-assignment process seems to go awry, resulting in stories that seem to already have been written before any people have been interviewed (think bad, canned trend story), or the sense of what should be covered (every town council meeting, every move of a major employer) drifts away from what's really changing the lives of people living in a place. Or the combination of staffing levels and deadline -- and in particular not letting reporters break news to the web -- gets in the way.
In the blogosphere, the biggest potential for corruption (in my opinion) is at the editorial level. Look, for example, at the story of Tech Central Station, which is run by a lobbying firm and just happens to have columnists that support those interests. Now the bloggers involved say -- and I believe them -- that they aren't being paid directly. But the lobbying firm is paying the editors, who are using bloggers who already support a predefined point of view as useful idiots.
However, citizen journalists are 1,000 times more likely to lack anything useful they could get from editorial coordination than to suffer from corruption and manipulation at the editorial level. There's plenty of citizen journalism, but there is no citizen assignment desk, and what results is often a random rattle bag of stuff, without the power and impact cohesiveness and consistency can give.
The check and balance on media power will not be done by some kind of "system". It will be done the American way, by each American in how they act in reponse to media's believability.
A popular sentiment, but from my perspective, it's a romantic fiction.
Individually, none of us has the time or resources to keep up with the raw output of something as large as "media." And to fact-check it? Absolutely not. Other people will come along and offer "expert" opinion on media for us, but that just takes us back to the original conundrum: Who is Watching the Watchmen?
As we've said before, real-time epistemology is a bitch, and no generation has ever been asked to deal with a mediascape this large before. Individually we can't cope with it, and when we cling to romantic ideals about that, we are in essence ceding our opinion-forming to various intermediaries. Wanna believe the media is a godless horde organized around the principle that Republican must be punished? Here's your MRC link. Wanna believe it's a lap dog for entrenched conservative powers? Click here to get your Buzzflash update by e-mail every single day.
Diversity and debate = good, but inability to speak a common language = Tower of Babel.
Tim Schmoyer e-mailed me off-thread to ask what ways this kind of check-and-balance system might be done well. I don't think the answer will be a new bureaucracy, or some top-down regulatory system. Besides, if you tried to impose standards on a bunch of competing media corporations, their lawyers would tie you in knots.
Instead, I'd look into creating some kind of non-profit, bipartisan, best-practices certifying/auditing agency. Think ISO standards: A manufacturer isn't legally required to meet them, but every manufacturer has a competitive reason to seek ISO certification. A restaurant doesn't have to shut down if it gets a B sanitation grade, but every restaurant desperately wants an A rating. For obvious reasons.
I told Tim that if we put our energies into building a transparent press-certification agency, based on rules and principles we can all agree on, then we might have some success.
You can't reorganize something that's never been organized. But if you build a public-interest group with meaningful standards and enough people got behind it, eventually the industry would have to follow.
I'd rather hire somebody who wrote a brilliant senior thesis on Chaucer than a J-school M.A. who's mastered the art of computer-assisted reporting. If you can crack Chaucer, you've got a chance at decoding city hall. If you're a computer-assisted reporting wizard, maybe you can reformat my hard drive.
Heh. I'd hire both of them, part time, and and have them hot-seat the same desk.
Bonus points: You save on benefits. Makes the almighty shareholder happy.
Yes, I'm evil.
But the real point is, the two prospects bring two different - and complimentary - skill sets to the paper.
Properly managed, the team can be worth more than the sum of its parts. And to borrow a term from the investment world, diversification decreases tracking error and lowers risk.
Screwed up, skewed assumptions and a lousy factual grasp of information = tracking error.
As the number of participants increases, the tracking error, theoretically, is reduced toward zero - subject to the systemic biases of, say, the population of computer savvy and Americans.
You have some class biases there which would be tough to diversify away, in practice.
But as Harry Markowitz showed in modern portfolio theory, even modest diversification can yield significant risk reduction.
Dan Rather's experience is a good case in point: Without the intellectual diversity that blogs provided in that story, we'd still be believing in Rather's "unimpeachable sources"
That can happen on a grand scale, where a story is totally debunked - as in Rathergate - or it can happen incrementally -- with the first rough draft of history being reviewed and refined and improved on as eyewitnesses and experts weigh in - and faster and in a more easily distributable medium than ever before.
Which improves future mainstream media treatments of the subject - hopefully.
But if the reporter doesn't know how to tap the secondary support network of bloggers and commenters, etc., then it's like a rabbinical scholar who knows Torah, but does not know Talmud.
There's a lot of good stuff in Talmud - and Torah far richer for it.
A free lunch.