This post will draw a very bright line between the Creation and Distribution of verified information for communities, and argue for that distinction’s importance for understanding today’s news-gathering and journalism climate.
One of my favorite pieces of business-reporting conventional wisdom is that everything in the economy is cyclical. It just depends on how big the circle is this time.
That goes for business building. As early web entrepreneurJim Barksdale famously put it, “there’s only two ways I know of to make money: bundling and unbundling.”
Information gathering (what we roughly call “journalism” today) has been a strategy for businesses for half a millennia. In its early commercial forms, the act of gathering that information and the act of distributing it were essentially two different businesses. In Barksdale’s parlance, they were “unbundled.”
It did its job to articulate that after generations of highly professionalized news-gathering we needed help. Now both professional and amateur journalists need a new understanding of the work we do.
I’ve been using a somewhat clunky and certainly pretentious-sounding phrase for some time now: producing “acts of journalism” to refer to the many outcomes that lead to honest dialogue about an idea and concept.
Online journalism has seen advances editorially, technologically and, more recently and perhaps more importantly, in sustainability, but the industry has yet to efficiently mature its methods of replication, according to my experience last week at the 2010 Online Journalism Association conference.
ONA 2010, in Washington D.C., showed another march in the broad conversation of those interested in the future of news, seeming to correlate a connective maturation in those three issues of primacy — editorial, technology and business — but there felt like a lack of real shared and collaborative best practices.
A tidy and frail little old man asked me to direct him to the coat rack. To walk him around the corner from the long and elegant main corridor of the nearly 150-year-old Union League of Philadelphia was my first deed.
If nothing else, it made for interesting conversation when I made it to the elaborate second-floor President’s Ballroom, featuring thirty foot ceilings, a spectacular chandelier and portraits of dour looking old white men. For an half-hour or so after 5:30 p.m., I handled a rum and coke and ambled about the pre-event cocktail reception of the Sunday Breakfast Club, a not-quite cloak-and-dagger, invitation-only private society for organization executives.
Perhaps nearly 200 members and guests of the seven decades young group patronized the open bar, chatted and nibbled appetizers. I did the same, more than a handful of times being approached by some degree of interest in the 20-something with a broken brown belt with black shoes.
No ma’am, I’m not lost. I’m on the panel to which you’re here to pay audience.
News-gathering can be profitable — there are oodles of examples of them. The challenge is taking those dollars to create the most efficiently-produced local journalism.
The big solution and sure trend of the future is fostering a community that covers itself.
The Quick Take
Citizen journalism is a transitional phrase that will soon be as dated as ‘horseless carriage’ is now
But we’re in a period of transition so the ‘citizen’ distinction serves a purpose.
So I’ve been thrilled to see that NEast Philly, the year-old, hyperlocal news site for Northeast Philadelphia to which I contribute and handle Web operations, has been slowly receiving more reader submissions. Lately, Editor Shannon McDonald tells me she’s receiving an item or two a week from readers.
We’ve been encouraging readers to send in photos, brief write-ups of their community events and any other kind of reporting that anyone can do. It’s coming, but still most comes from McDonald tracking down information, submissions and contacts.
I’m one to describe this as ‘UGC‘ — user-generated content — and have been known to use the phrase “citizen journalism.” After doing so once more, I was pointed to a few dated conversations about just how dated that phrase might be, and I have some thoughts on why it’s a concept that still has value.