segunda-feira, maio 30, 2005

 
What Professional and Citizen Journalists Can Learn From Each Other
Dan Gillmor on Fri, 2005-05-27.

(Keynote speech at the World Editors Forum annual conference).

Thank you so much for your kind welcome, and thank you to the World Editors Forum for honoring me with this invitation.
This is only my third visit to Seoul. The first time was about 12 years ago, when I came to visit American friends who were living here at the time. They showed me around a city that impressed me with its vigor and enthusiasm. My second visit was in 2003. I was researching my book, We the Media, which I'm delighted to say will be published in Korean in the next few weeks, and I made that trip to visit OhmyNews, the brilliant and influential publication that has had such an impact on this nation, and on everyone contemplating citizen journalism. Mr. Oh and his team feature prominently in my book, and I'm looking forward to visiting their offices again while I'm here this week.
It's a pleasure and a particular honor to be among my journalism colleagues today. Journalism is an honorable craft. It is also an essential one in a world where shining lights into dark corners -- and telling truth to power -- is a frequently difficult, and sometimes dangerous, task.
I would like to discuss with you today a topic that is taking up more and more of my time. I left my daily newspaper job early this year after almost a quarter of a century in the newspaper business -- a gratifying and personally rewarding career -- to work full-time on my more recent passion, citizen journalism.
In my conversations with people in the mainstream or mass media, and with people in this emerging citizen journalism sphere, however, I've encountered a gap in understanding. Sometimes it verges on outright hostility.
In America, many bloggers from the political right wing have turned "MSM" -- which is short for mainstream media -- into an insult. Some journalists from big media companies, likewise, have dismissed online journalists as irresponsible, even dangerous meddlers in their sacred business.
Some tension is inevitable, and not an entirely negative thing. Competition can make us all better at what we do. But we have a lot we can -- and must -- learn from each other.
Before I offer some specific suggestions, please allow me to restate the central theme of my work. Something important is happening in the world of journalism:. It's an evolution from the lecture model, to which we in mass media have become accustomed in the past century, to something closer to a conversation. The shift stems from the collision of technology with media.
This evolution is having an effect on all three major constituencies of journalism. The most important of those is what I call the former audience -- the people who until recently were our readers, listeners and viewers, who until recently were either buying our lectures or not. Now they can create their own incoming news reports, sorting among the enormous amount of online information -- some of which Mr. Bharat and his company are so smartly sorting for us -- and not having to be satisfied with a single source. Even more important, the former audience can now become part of the journalism process, whether by communicating with professional journalists or, increasingly, producing their own content. The rise of RSS (which stands for Really Simple Syndication), SMS (short text messages), weblogs and OhmyNews are just several of the many examples of this phenomenon.
That, by the way, is the last time I'll talk about technology today in any specific way, because this trend is more about people than gadgets. Citizen journalism is made possible by what's new. It will be made excellent because of what people do with it.
Experiments in citizen journalism are a global phenomenon, not just an American one. Let me quickly show you some of the ones I find most interesting. I'm sure many of you could show me equally compelling examples.
[Slides here]
The second major constituency of journalism fits into a category we call newsmakers, the people and institutions we journalists write about. They are facing profound changes. Something new is being done to them. Where they once dealt with a finite number of media observers, now they must deal with bloggers, podcasters, online chat rooms and a variety of other ways in which people are talking among themselves. At the same time, newsmakers have powerful new ways to deliver their own messages. When they use these tools and techniques to become more transparent -- to have genuine conversations with their customers and other constituents -- they are finding great value.
The third constituency of journalism is, of course, you and me: the professional journalists.
We have a great deal to learn from others. If we accept the idea that we are moving toward a more conversational system, then we must remember that the first rule in having a conversation is to listen.
When I went to Silicon Valley to write about technology, I learned quickly a fact of life that has been at the heart of my citizen journalism notions ever since. It was simple: My readers knew more than I did, and they were happy to tell me what I didn't know, or at least some of it.
I believe this concept is true for all journalists. No matter what the topic you are writing about, your collected readers know more than you about the subject. This is true by definition.
The value in this should be clear to all of us. Readers can help us understand our subjects better. They can give us facts we did not know. They can add nuance. They can ask follow-up questions. And, of course, they can tell us when we are wrong.
The now-famous CBS News mess from the election of 2004 was a case in which citizen journalists challenged the established media to great effect. You may recall that CBS broadcast a report about President Bush's long-ago military service. The story was based in significant part on documents purportedly written by Bush's former commander. Bloggers attacked the report, in particular the authenticity of the documents, asking tough questions. Soon, major media organizations jumped into the story. CBS was initially defensive, but ultimately was forced to admit it had not done its job properly.
The CBS case was an exception, because the major media do in the end work hard to get stories right, and they succeed for the most part. But bloggers have become media observers, watchdogs, who are not going to stop holding major media organizations to account. This is not the most pleasant notion for journalists whose every public move is now under observation. Yet it is more useful than not. We are fond of holding everyone else to account; more scrutiny of our own methods and motives is not a bad idea.
The online world has also brought forth an ethic that we in mass media would do well to adopt. This is the willingness not just to engage with our audiences, but also to correct our mistakes quickly and publicly. When we publish a newspaper or broadcast a news report, it is done, to some degree. A correction of an error may appear on Page 2 of the newspaper the next day, or a broadcaster may later acknowledge the mistake. On the Web, we can fix what is wrong right away, limiting any damage we might cause to future readers. Being human like the rest of us, I've made mistakes in my writing, and corrected them as soon as I knew of the mistakes.
I'm happier contemplating a scenario in which citizen reporters work with professionals in a less adversarial way. News organizations should be inviting the former audience not just into the process of commenting on the news, but also creating news reports.
For that to happen, professionals need to open up -- in a number of ways.
If we lecture citizen reporters, treating them like children, they will ignore us. Rightly so.
Instead, we can offer respect for the good things they do. We must not dismiss them, as a former CBS executive did during the CBS News debacle, as those people in pajamas, a cynical reference to the fact that some bloggers are writing at home and, yes, sometimes in their pajamas.
Taking citizen journalists seriously, as OhmyNews does so effectively, also means offering useful advice. And just as we should listen to the voices from the edges of networks, the citizen journalists -- people who are doing journalistic work -- would do well to listen to the people who do it for a living. We professionals aren't perfect, far from it, but we have learned a useful technique or two in the past century of this trade. And we have adopted some useful principles as well.
Indeed, I hope, as my citizen journalism projects get off the ground, to combine the best practices and principles of traditional journalism with the fervor and knowledge and talent that exists out at the edges of digital networks. Helping citizen journalists understand those best practices is one of my goals, and I hope it will be one of yours over time as well.
What are those principles? The best journalism has many qualities, but I believe four stand out.
First is thoroughness. When I was writing news for a living, I was always happiest when I wrote 10 percent of what I'd learned: the most important 10 percent.
Second, accuracy. Check facts. Attribute to credible sources what you can't check yourself. And tell your readers what you don't know, if it's important, not just what you do.
Third, fairness. This is more ambiguous, but we all know when we're being fair and when we are not.
Finally, transparency. I'm not saying journalists should necessarily reveal everything about themselves, but if they bring any bias to the story it should be disclosed.
We can also point people to resources where they can learn more about how journalism works, where they can learn techniques of, for example, how to conduct an interview or look at a financial statement. We can explain how we have done an article, taking people through the various steps. We can read what citizen journalists write, offering comments and asking questions.
I've been asked by many people to explain what I'm doing in my venture since leaving the San Jose Mercury News. My new site, which we call Bayosphere.com, is devoted to covering the San Francisco Bay Area, a multi-community region that is home to about 7 million people, a place where technology is one of the principal economic engines. In a community of geography, we have many strong communities of interest, but technology is plainly a key.
At the moment, Bayosphere is my blog plus some forums. It will be much more in the near future, as we roll out features and tools for members of the community who want to participate beyond being an audience. I'm looking forward to learning from them.
That is one reason why my role is distinctly different than I'd originally envisioned. I will be a host, not the editor.
But given my overriding goal, as I just noted, to combine the best practices and principles of traditional journalism with the fervor and knowledge and talent that exists out at the edges of digital networks, I will not be a passive host. And the community must not be passive, either, when it comes to self-policing.
So we are asking the members of our community -- and if it's not a community it will fail -- to exercise some responsibilities. As we say on the site, "You own your words." We adapted that from one of the first great online communities of the past, a place known as the Well.
When you own your words and write something that others may want to read, you can sell or license what you have written to others. But when you own your words and defame someone, you may be sued. With ownership comes a certain responsibility.
Most blogs and other online postings are not journalism, and don't pretend to be. I would not dream of asking a typical blogger, for example, to exercise journalistic care when writing something about, say, a household pet. But when a blogger is doing something we might call journalism, a willingness to be responsible may be as important as the desire to speak.
The penalty for bad behavior in the blog world is rarely a lawsuit. More typically, it's the loss of readers, an appropriate result. In a sphere where few citizen journalists are out to make a living at what they do, this is a true marketplace of ideas, and the best ones should win.
This doesn't mean that citizen reporting should always be an exercise in volunteering. We must develop sound business models to support new media forms. They are coming.
But money is not the major push behind citizen journalism. It is the entirely human desire to tell each other our stories, to help each other navigate through this complex and often insane world.
Citizen journalists are not the enemies of professional journalists, though they will make us furious from time to time, especially when they criticize what we do. They are part of an emergent ecosystem. Sometimes they will be an especially engaged audience, commenting and suggesting. And sometimes they will take matters into their own hands, to do some reporting and tell the rest of us what they know. In both cases I will be happy to call them colleagues, part of a vital global conversation.
We are just getting started. I can't wait to see how it proceeds.
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