Over on The Drum yesterday, Tim Dunlop has nailed one of the biggest problems facing journalism in the digital age:

The collapse of the funding model on which media relied is one thing, but even more worrying is the self-aggrandisement of the audience that has accompanied it.

This development raises the most vital question confronting the media today: just how did the audience for news, the famed ‘punters’ of newsroom banter and contempt, ever get it into their heads that they were entitled to question the way journalists went about their jobs rather than continue, ad infinitum, to passively consume whatever editors in a fiscally prudent limited number of outlets fed them?

How did these same punters ever think that their role in society was anything more than to allow themselves to be aggregated into homogenous demographic categories that were sold by media organisations to advertisers for unchallenged profit?

And what ungodly devil’s spawn of misinformation found its way into the water supply and convinced ‘the audience’ that they should be allowed to bypass the righteous gatekeeping of the mainstream media (peace be upon it) and fooled them into thinking that they, too, could have a role in contributing to public discourse?

This insidious invention, the Frankenstein monster of tenured academics alive during the discredited 1960s, has completely overturned the natural order of tenured news gatherers.

Armed with this new tool of mass dissemination, an unlikely number of ‘readers’ have convinced themselves that they are also actually ‘writers’ and they fill up their ‘blogs’ (an abbreviation for blah-blah-blah catalogue), their Twitter feeds, their Facebook pages, and, heaven-forfend, the ‘comments boxes’ on the websites of the mainstream media with their thoughts on subjects.

This is the attitude that seems to be common among many news organizations and among journalists themselves. “How dare the audience think it can do what we do?”. Journalists can no longer rely on the authority that is granted to them by access to the means of distribution; self publishing is free and easy, knowledge flows openly, and there is a community of peer to peer reporting and commentary that is threatening the traditional role of the journalist.

What Tim Dunlop has identified is the resistance from journalists to the changing dynamics of the news industry. How are journalists going to retain their authority in an age when anyone can self publish? I don’t think it’s going to come from shutting themselves off from the wider knowledge community through paywalls. They will not earn the respect of their readers by belittling bloggers; anyone who has looked at the NBN coverage in Australia will know that a blog can cover news as well as, and often better than any newspaper.

I think we are entering an age where journalists will gain their respect and voice by engaging with the citizen reporters, bloggers and journalists and becoming a part of the conversation that already exists around news.

What is the role of the journalist in open journalism? Does the journalist have a role at all? Is it one of curator as author? How does citizen journalism fit in to this?


4 thoughts on “Authority?

  1. I like the way you describe the interaction between formal journalists and “citizen journalists”. I’m reminded of engagement of that kind involving a journalist and a bunch of Arab Spring protesters in Sana’a, Yemen, last year. Tom Finn sat down in a cafe with a few locals and, rather than filing his own observations or conducting an interview, facilitated a round table discussion by passing his mobile phone around. It was excellent journalism and, as you say, I respected Finn even more after hearing it.

    • I think the intersection between citizen journalism and traditional journalism is where “open journalism” is. We are working towards a definition of “open journalism” that defines it more of an idea than an actual working process. “Open Journalism” puts the journalist at the centre of a much winder range of reporting. But we are still working towards that definition I suppose.

  2. Pingback: Is open journalism commercially viable? | Open Journalism

  3. Pingback: Trust, the missing link | Open Journalism

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