In discussions with colleagues and students at journalism schools, online in blogs (both MSM and citizen journalism), even in scholarly works I'm confronted with the same argument (in various nuances): whatever is happening online - hey, or offline for that matter - and changing in the ways people use media - where 'using' media always includes consuming and producing media - it will not change the need for (and legitimacy of) journalism.


Journalism exists and is deemed 'necessary' because for a reasonably long time, access to media technologies for the gathering, editing and distribution of 'public' information was restricted. Restrictions included gender, class, income and place: journalism was originally wielded by the wealthy and powerful, and wrestled control of its 'objectivity' and public service ideal only in the late 20th century under the influence of lawyers and marketers. The following history of journalistic professionalization has only increased the alienation process between journalists and the rest of 'us' - which is not necessarily a bad thing: yes, professional distance is predominantly seen as a good thing in journalism.

In today's information (or: knowledge) society, the skills and resources necessary to do journalism - knowing where to find information, how to evaluate information, and how to repurpose that information in meaningful and appropriate ways across multiple platforms - are increasingly part and parcel of everyday life.

Hartley has argued (see earlier post) we live in a 'redactional' society, which he defines as (I quote): "This is a society in which ‘everyone is a journalist’ or can be. Not only can they express an opinion or circulate information via read-write media forms such as email, blogs, websites, SMS and the like, but their views can be gathered and processed into collective forms." Others have made similar arguments, see for example the work of Lev Manovich on an emerging global information culture, in his words remixing "the ways in which information is presented in different cultural sites and objects”, "historical methods for organizing and retrieving information” and the "patterns of user interaction with information objects and displays.”

The point remains the same: our everyday life has become defined by the very patterned activities, skill requirements and resource applications claimed to be exclusive to media producers like, archetypically, journalists.

In other words: journalism is, or must be, defined as a set of skills and practices as well as an attitude (the public service ideal) carried by journalists, and by everybody else engaged in 'redactional' (creative) activities. It cannot be considered to be exclusive to anybody, let alone journalists.

Sure, this does not mean journalism will dissappear, nor does it mean there is more need for journalism than ever. It just means journalists are sharing the public sphere (or rather: all public spheres) with millions of other voices, some better, some worse at doing what they've done since the late-15th (or rather: mid-20th) century.

My hypothesis is, that this realization isn't just problematic for journalists, reporters and editors: it is a frightening thought for the majority of everyone professionally involved in media content production. It is therefore not surprising their dominant reponse to the trends currently emerging as dominant in the contemporary mediasphere can be summarized as follows:

1. What I (and those with me) do, will remain just as relevant as before (think show-and-tell advertising, downstream marketing, top-down journalism);

2. What I (and those with me) do, will only become more important and necessary (think any kind of argument boiling down to proving relevance by adding more clutter to the clutter)

or, perhaps, a third option:

3. What I (and those with me) do, will become irrelevant (think about the cultural pessimism embedded in much of the MSM discourse on weblogs, podcasts and other types of 'me' or 'we' media).

Yes it is really hard to find thoughtful ways to embrace the new (interactive, upstream, bottom-up and long tail) while keeping the best of the old. Especially when the 'new' means sharing the 'old'.