In several articles for the Huffington Post and in a recent interview at the Mobile Journalism Conference (MoJoCON) in Dublin, TV-Journalist Michael Rosenblum argued that Journalism was finished.
In his own words:
There are 3 billion people around the world with iPhones or smart phones in their pockets.
Those phones are not just phones (clearly), but, among other things, remarkably powerful platforms for journalism. You can write on them, shoot photos, record and edit video and even live stream. (…) There is no barrier to being a journalist. Anyone can do it. And they do. This is the content that fills Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Meerkat and so on. All news and information — all filled by a billion people reporting all the time for free.
So the job of the professional journalist is as dead as the elevator operator.
That surely sounds provocative.
Michael Rosenblum is right insofar as the Web, the biggest public platform, enables almost everyone to publish text, share photos, videos, soundbites. And, yes, that is a revolution.
But if you start arguing that everyone with a smartphone is a journalist, it’s like saying:
• Everyone who applies stage-makeup is an actor. Or:
• Everyone with a painting brush is an artist. Or:
• Everyone who can read notes can sing a song.
Why doesn’t that add up?
Because you’ve got to be trained to do it properly.
So it’s skill that make a difference. (And I’ll come to that again later.)
Also, I heartily disagree to call all the content that fills social media „news and information“.
At least not news and information by journalistic definition. And that is information that is relevant (= important and not only entertaining) to those we address.
Simply sharing content is not reporting.
Simply sharing photos on Flickr is not reporting.
Simply asking somebody questions on YouTube is not conducting an interview.
And Journalism is much more than producing content.
Journalism is also about meticulous research, about getting information others would / could hardly undig (investigative journalism), about evaluating information, about helping our readers, listeners, watchers, users to make sense of what’s going on around us – and in the world.
And in a world that – through the mass media and the Web – offers an overwhelming amount of information this task of professional journalists – of making sense of it all – seems to me still very necessary.
No, journalism isn’t threatened by the mere fact that billions of people own smartphones.
The job of professional journalist isn’t dead yet, as Michael Rosenblum put it so pointedly.
Yet, I agree that journalism is severely threatened.
And ironically that threat comes from within.
At least in Germany, many publishing houses and broadcasting companies have failed for years to come up with a strategy of how to meaningfully combine their print/radio /TV products with their activities in the Web. In short: they don’t know what to do with the web.
For them, the Web has mostly been the great enemy that has been drawing users away from their newspapers, magazines, radio and TV stations that brought in the cash.
Now that the numbers of their readers and listeners are dwindeling dramatically, now that younger people prefer YouTube or streaming services like Netflix to TV stations with a fixed schedule, most of those publishing houses and broadcasting companies stand there aghast.
They are losing their audience. Thus their income.
And they have no Plan B how to win two generations of digital natives who have completely different user patterns.
The companies’ innovative answer to this challenge is – quite old school – saving money by firing hundreds or thousands of their employed journalists.
And what these companies definitely don’t do is investing money into the further education of their remaining employees.
But that would be extremely necessary.
As I said, it’s all about skills.
Today, journalists must not only know how to write a news story or how to produce a radio or tv feature.
They must also understand how Social Media works. How to engage users. They must understand that in the age of the Web 2.0 or Web 3.0, there are no audiences left. Only users who want to interact.
Journalism is not a one way street anymore: this is our broadcast, now listen to it.
Modern journalism is about interaction. Modern journalism is a process rather than a finished product.
Only if journalists and companies understand this, only if journalists are trained to tell their stories digitally (and not merely put text online) their profession will have a chance.
So journalists shouldn’t worry about several billion smartphone owners.
But they and their companies should worry about staying abreast of the times – and of the technical advance.
Journalists should ensure to aquire the skills necessary for using those new technologies – to do their news digging and to tell their stories in a way that no one else can do.
(Foto: cc Jo Naylor /License)
If you want to be a writer, you pick up a pencil and start to write. Maybe you are JK Rowling, and maybe your are terrible, but that is how one becomes a writer. If you wish to be a musician, you pick up a guitar and start strumming away. Maybe you are Paul Simon or maybe you are terrible, but that is where Paul Simons come from. If you want to be an artist you pick up a brush and start to paint. Maybe you are Picasso and maybe you are crap. But that is where Picasso’s come from. Picasso’s dont work for the State Art Institute (at least not since the demsie of the USSR). Writers don’t work for Random House as employees. Musicians don’t work for Tower Records.
Now, for the very first time, the creative work of being a video journalist has become un-hooked from having to be an employee of a TV station. Now, anyone with an iPhone can be a video journalist, just as anyone with a pencil can be a writer. That doesn’t mean they are a good writer. Most will be terrible, which is fine.
Anyone with a paintbrush who puts paint to canvas is an artist. They may not be a great artist, but they are indeed an artist. You may not like their work, but fortunately for us, there is no ‘decider’ who gets to say who is an artist and who is not. (You may see my own work at http://www.rosenblumart. com, by the way).
Now this freedom comes to journalism. And no bad thing.
This is ‘messy’, you think.
This is a free press.
And a free press IS messy.
It is supposed to be.
It is ironic that the debate sparked by Michael Rosenblum’s statement that ‘The Job of Journalist is Finished’, really sums up how poor some modern journalism actually is. The pronouncement is a great headline grabber, but is simplistic in the extreme.
His argument is, that with modern technology and people carrying phones,capable of broadcast quality video….. there is no barrier to being a journalist. Whilst there maybe some merit to this argument, my riposte would be just because people can produce content, doesn’t mean it will be watchable. Kitten videos on Facebook may look better, but that doesn’t mean they are more compelling or less annoying! As a photojournalist with 30 years experience. I have met amateurs with better equipment, than me, but that doesn’t mean they can structure a feature or even get shots in focus!
What probably is dead, is the condescending top down model that has driven modern journalism ‘we pronounce – you listen’. People are tiring of this approach, you only have to read the comments section in a modern newspaper to see that people also want their voice to be heard.
So where does this leave the career journalist? I would argue that the future is bright. There are now more opportunities than ever before for journalists to tell stories and to really create engaging content. The challenge is to keep abreast of these emerging technologies and to exploit them to their full potential. The other skill that should set the ‘professional journalist’ apart is the ability to research and produced well informed content. Stories need to be contextualised. As more and more people try their hand at producing content, trust and authenticity will become increasingly more important commodities.
It is true that many traditional employment opportunities will probably dry up, largely because newspapers have been slow to respond to the challenges that the internet has thrown up. In Britain the traditional press has long supported the status quo, contributed much to spectacle, to voyeurism and been a law unto themselves. Anything that challenges this has to be for the positive. At the same time, new opportunities will arise.
Michael Rosenblum has kick started a debate that is long overdue. So is modern journalism dead?
I don’t believe it is, it’s evolving and with this evolution come new opportunities and challenges.
To misquote Mark Twain ‘Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated’.