In Brian Lehrer’s conversation with Chris Anderson, author of FREE: The Future of a Radical Price, Lehrer questions Anderson’s notion that today’s journalists will evolve to be editors/coaches of unpaid, amateur content producers. It may sound like older journalists grasping at the straws of job security, but that’s where we are headed, and their experience is sorely needed.
With the great capacity we now have to disseminate information online, anyone who gathers facts on a story and posts it can be a reporter. NYU’s Jay Rosen calls this new reporting citizen journalism, “when the people formerly known as the audience employ the press tools they have in their possession to inform one another.” Rosen says this combination of bloggers, readers and the internet has the potential to be strong. It also has the power to empower, if more people of varied experience, age, race and interests are able to express more diverse viewpoints.
What is needed for this immense gathering of voices is strong leadership from editors willing to hold the bar high. Reporters must continue to produce the very best stories, videos and broadcasts. With so much noise online, news consumers are developing strong filters and losing patience. Those who want to be heard will have to be reliable, ring clearer and have a brighter tone, and that takes collaborating with a good editor.
Smart editor/coaches are already emerging. The former political organizer-turned-Propublica editor Amanda Michel is taking a serious bite out of the stimulus bill with her thousand-plus citizen recruits. She tries to make it clear what the editor-writer relationship will be right from the start. Michel told Poynter.com in a recent interview:
There is no ‘litmus test’ for who can be a citizen journalist. I don’t operate with a Platonic ideal in mind. However, the Web enables self-selection. Many get involved because they want to improve media and they’re particularly interested in, say, the environment. When I promote projects I try to clearly communicate what skills people should have and how much time is required of them. This is a self-selecting process, and I can recruit a better network by acknowledging this.
The internet has changed the one-way flow of information forever, allowing reporters and sources to become collaborators. They are more powerful together, shining bright lights in more dark corners. Journalism by its very nature compels the older, more seasoned practitioners, who say they are passionate about speaking truth to power, to give up their position as the only sources of verifiable news, a specialty they use to be able to charge for, and move over. Journalists who resist the new, two-way flow, rather than define their role and lend their skills, will eventually be overwhelmed by a new era of journalism where the storytellers and their audiences search for the Truth together.