Friday, 25 February 2011

New journalism- is that what we're doing?

The world affairs correspondent on the BBC web site, Paul Reynolds, has been musing over how his job has changed over the nine years since he 'left the "mainstream" BBC'. The most significant change has been communication with the public via the internet and the internet itself as a source of news. As Paul said in a lecture to journalism students 'some time ago' that 'the concept of the world waiting for news crews to get to disaster zones was over - witnesses there would be taking their own pictures'.

As the current situation in Libya demonstrates, sometimes the only source of information (aka news) is from those witnesses with their cameras, usually cunningly disguised as mobile telephones. In a less extreme example, it's interesting that now, with the court's permission, you can tweet from a UK court. That exemplar of nominative determinism Lord Chief Justice Judge has said so, but he limited this to journalists.

So what is a journalist? Is it (in the UK) a member of the NUJ, carrying a press card, or is it (as the OED says) "One who earns his living by editing or writing for a public journal or journals". Is the 'earns his living' important? Some would say so, and a simple Google search on the subject brings up conflicting opinions. There's a particularly interesting analysis on The Next Web by Jacob Friedman called Blogging vs. Journalism: The Ongoing Debate.

On one level this matters because in many jurisdictions journalists get special protection, notable to protect their sources. On another it matters because down the line the material that is written can become a source for further research and even further news stories. So the provenance of your sources is important. It is OK to report a rumour as long as you say it's a rumour and to give opinion as long as it is clear that it is opinion. One criticism of blogging is that it can be opinion masquerading as fact. In the Friedman piece one quote likens bloggers to people who used to write letters to newspapers but not get published.

Ironically, one blog referred to in the piece is by Jolie O'Dell and called How to tell a Journalist from a Blogger. Apparently it has caused quite a stir and makes interesting reading ... as do the comments.

I could argue that the multiplicity of sources of information brought to us by the web (and of which any web pages you publish will be a part) are now parts of a new journalism. Journalists are an important part of this, but so are bloggers, commenters on blogs, tweeters, Wikipedia editors and so, even, are the pages on a company's web site promoting a new product. As readers, we now need to have some of the attributes of researchers, since we need to know how to weight our belief in what we read based on our knowledge of its provenance. Think about how your web pages might stand up as journalistic sources and also wonder whether we should now be teaching everyone how to carry out research as part of the school curriculum.

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