The Finnish magazine Maine (published in Finnish by Edita) asked me recently to write their monthly 'Guru' article on the changes and challenges facing journalism. I'd like to share my first draft here, and invite you all to mail me comments, feedback and other stuff you feel I should include (or exclude).

(working title): Journalism, Reinvent Thyself! (Word count: 969)

Just like society needs criminals and wars in order to maintain itself over time, journalism needs scandals and disruptive technologies in order to continuously re-: think about Great Britain in the peaceful post-WWII era or the profession of journalism in most Western democracies during the seemingly successful heydays of the late 1980s. In such a stagnant situation, social order is threatened to the point of collapse. In Great Britain this enabled a surge of regionalism and 'new' nationalism with Welsh, Scottish and northern Irish people reclaiming independence, resulting in increasing violence, economic upheaval and ultimately toppling governments. In journalism, the last two decades can be typified by the meteoric impact of digitalization and the World Wide Web, as well as by an increasingly fast-paced commercialization and conglomeration process affecting media industries and practices across the globe. In this essay I argue that this is what these social systems desperately need.

Societies, industries and professions need to be in a constant state of flux in order to preserve their dominant values, norms and ways of doing things. A primary function of real or perceived changes and challenges is social maintenance: perpetuating existing power relationships and hierarchies. Yet the contemporary journalistic ecosystem offers more opportunities than just restating mantras like "the pen is mightier than the sword" or convincing us that the written word is the superior way of communicating news. Bits, bytes and pixels as well as infotainment and emo-tv have opened to the door for different definitions of journalism to enter the mainstream. These are not necessarily 'new' definitions, as journalism has always been about selling a product and marketing that product across different media. My point: by embracing convergence, by moving journalistic products online, by including more personal, inclusive, emotional (and thus more feminine) approaches to journalistic storytelling, journalism as a whole enters a constant state of flux so cherished by management gurus. If we want journalism to survive this transition in a way that is vital and crisp rather than offering audiences more of the same old, its practitioners have to be made aware of the consequences of these changes, thus enabling them - reporters, editors, managers, producers and directors alike - to find their own voice rather than merely reproducing those of powerful others that came before them.

So, Journalism is changing. Journalism is part of an ever-expanding corporate media industry, whose companies consider news as but one of their wide range of products to be marketed to audiences. Journalism is also dependent on a vast array of technologies that facilitate and accelerate the process of gathering, editing and disseminating information. Journalism provides a service to society and in doing so is intrinsically linked to and part of society - a society that in today’s world is at once local and global as national borders are disappearing and migration flows span the globe. When adapting to these and other circumstances, journalism, indeed, is changing fast. Sure, professional journalism has always been part of commercial enterprises, made use of technologies and served a variety of audiences. The point is, journalism usually dealt with this in the same old way: by blindly fighting off anything that was perceived to be threatening 'editorial autonomy'; by using disruptive technologies like microphones, cameras, computers and Internet largely to repurpose the same stories and narratives produced before; and by firmly focusing on the dominant economically privileged culture of their society while delegating the 'others' (youths, women, ethnic minorities) to the margins of niche media.

Let us stop and think for a bit what this social maintenance behavior of journalists and their managers has resulted in. First of all, the 'mass' audience for news has vanished. An increasing number of news producers compete for a dwindling number of news consumers. Second, people in most Western democracies have become extremely distrustful of their journalists - as well as their politicians. For many people, politics and journalism represent the same thing: "people not looking like me, not taking me serious, not serving my interests." Third, all kinds of journalisms have emerged on the fringes of the mainstream increasingly finding audiences by simply allowing these audiences to become reporters themselves: discussion forums online, talk radio, SMS-television, citizen's media varying from pirate radio and community media projects to local independent television or print- and Web-based initiatives of what mainstream journalism likes to call 'alternative' media. As media companies are scrambling to build multimedia newsrooms and develop new formats for magazines and broadcast programs that disappear as fast as they arrive, they fail to understand nor embrace the inevitable consequences of the state of flux journalism finds itself in. Instead, journalism and journalists seem to dig ever-deeper trenches, burying their heads in the sand to avoid acknowledgement of a world not accepting their early-20th century ideals of serving the rational informed citizen anymore. Today's citizens are for all the right or wrong reasons increasingly convinced that what is important to them as individuals should be addressed by society’s institutions at once. A journalism that continues to treat people as a 'mass' based on gendered concepts like 'rationality', 'authority' and 'objectivity' using top-down storytelling devices runs the risk of making itself obsolete.

The World Wide Web enables the emancipation of the news consumer to become a fellow news producer. Commercialization promotes new styles of more personal and emotional storytelling and 'de-institutionalizes' the sourcing practices of mainstream journalists. The global multicultural society allows for the 'grayness' of real multi-perspectival news instead of the black-and-white of "getting both sides of the story." These are but a couple of simple lessons we can learn from the contemporary state of flux. Nostalgia only serves to maintain the causes for the troubles journalism finds itself in. It is time to reinvent journalism.