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Are there journalists?

Jeff Jarvis [twitter:jeffjarvis] has a good post asking us to think about journalism as a service provided to a culture, rather than worrying about who is or is not a journalist:

Thanks to the Snowden-Greenwald NSA story, we are headed into another spate of debate about who is and isn’t a journalist. I’ve long said it’s the wrong question now that anyone can perform an act of journalism: a witness sharing news directly with the world; an expert explaining news without need of gatekeepers; a whistleblower opening up documents to sunlight; anyone informing everyone. It’s the wrong question when we reconsider journalism not as the manufacture of content but instead as a service whose goal is an informed public.

There are of course times when we have to make a decision about who is a journalist and who isn’t. For example, who do you let into a press conference? But almost always those are decisions forced by the limitations of the physical world, and it’s a shame to let those limitations drive our understanding. Jeff’s way is more useful.

Why more useful? First, because it can forestall a whole bunch of pointless arguments premised on the idea that there is a precise definition of “journalist” that we can establish, that’s useful, and that we can agree upon. That’s not how language works. Second, and more important, worrying about journalism-as-service rather than who is a journalist lets us think about how to build an ecosystem that enables the maximum amount of useful journalism no matter who is doing it. From my point of view, this is a way of thinking about how we can build better and better knowledge networks for understanding what’s happening now in the context of history and a pluralism of cultures.

Now, the very best such ecosystem well might have paid professional journalists in it. In fact, I’ll be shocked if it does not. But thinking about journalism-as-service (or as ecosystem or as network) seems to me to be the more inclusive frame.

2 Responses to “Are there journalists?”

  1. […] another follow-up post points out, this is actually good for journalists. Officially expanding the role of journalists […]

  2. In the book I am working on right now, my claim is that there used to be a working ecosystem – until the internet came around. I have been playing around with elements and actors that might be part of a new system, but finally I concluded that there isn’t such a thing anymore. (ofcourse I clarify this thesis in more words than I do now :-))

    Since the 1990’s the ecosystem (which consisted of sending professionals and receiving amateurs, more or less closely watched by the government as referee), has slowly imploded. What’s left right now is nothing more than the ruins of the old system. Nothing new came about – as everything and everybody has become part of the playing field that used to be exclusively organised for professional journalists.

    By the way, I don’t see this as something to worry about. On the contrary, even without a working ecosystem it’s more fun than ever before to be active in journalism.

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