de.tech.ting

dude, where’s my journalist?

Posted by andreaitis on January 13, 2009

a couple of things happened over the last few days that got me thinking:

1.  i was on a call to prep for a digital breakfast panel on the future of news and information.  it’s put together by gotham media ventures, and will be at the harvard club.  fancy.   the call was supposed to be a quick intro but lasted twice as long because, rather than just prepping, we got into the actual conversation ourselves.

2.  fredwilson wrote avoiding the big yellow taxi moment, a post about newspapers, journalists, reporters and the yet-to-be-solved business model.  it prompted a lively and insightful discussion with  over 150 responses — including a comment  from our ceo.

3.  i spoke to a sportswriter who is now teaching journalism at loyola college in maryland.   i asked her:  how do you teach journalism today?   she said she is asked that question more than any other.

it occurred to me this morning that there is a correlation between what’s happening in the video world and what’s happening in the print world.   we used to watch tv by network — must-see-tv on nbc — we were loyal to the network.  now, i can watch tv on my pc or when i’m mobile using hulu, or i can use boxee and watch anything i want on my tv.  i become the network.   my loyalty is not to the tv networks of old, but to the shows and personalities.    i watch house and  jon stewart and true beauty.    (btw, ashton kutcher and tyra banks might be geniuses.)

it’s the same with print.  i talk about andrew sullivan’s  ‘why i blog’ and michael hirschorn’s ‘end times.’ both are connected to the atlantic, but that’s not how i reference them.  i am aligned with the writer, not the publication.  my loyalty is to the human brand.  this isn’t 100%, of course.  there is credibility attached to certain media brands, tho that’s been impacted by an influx of fakes and phonies like jayson blair and stephen glass, among others.

which leads me to my next thought:  are journalists a dying breed?   to me,  ‘journalist’ was a word uttered with wistful reverence.  it was aspirational, something to work for and earn, almost like being knighted.   in all my years in news, i never called myself a journalist; i thought of myself as a storyteller.  but i know i did the job with integrity and ethics.  i know i was careful and thoughtful in my reporting.  i was never cavalier; the details mattered.

there are different pieces to being a journalist: the research, the angle, the hunches, the facts, the writing, the presentation….the parameters when you’re chasing the story, and the boundaries when you’re telling the story.   it’s the training, the skills that build solid reporting and credibility, that allow you to responsibly push those boundaries.

anyone can  ‘report’ today.  we all know that, and we’ve talked about mass quantity and the credibility spectrum.  but below the surface is this question: will the next generation learn the skills of basic reporting?  will they want to, or will they feel it’s unnecessary because they can instantly publish?  we learned so much of the craft from actually being in a newsroom, eavesdropping on phone conversations and hanging out in the bar.   every newsroom in every media company had such a bar.  we didn’t even use the name, just called it ‘across the road.’    i’m not sure digital communication can replace that physical presence.   and those bars?  some aspiring journalist would do well to take a tour of those bars and pubs.  there are stories to be heard and stories to be told, and they won’t be there forever.

it’s possible today to  be a ‘reporter’ without ever leaving your house.    i’m just not sure that’s a good thing.   the role of the journalist will be redefined and reshaped as the industry continues to change; we’re just at the beginning of that transformation.  and up-and-coming journalists?  i guess the ones who will make it will understand the steps they need to take along the way.  at least, i hope so.   because, content isn’t king anymore.  credibility is.

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