Reinventing Journalism

By Eleanor Haas

With all the sturm und
about newspapers dying under the weight of production and
distribution costs and other media also economically challenged, it’s all too
easy to forget there’s a lot more to news than mere business models undergoing
radical change.

The amazing societal model the Founding Fathers established
for the US has since Day 1 relied on news people to keep government
honest.  It was the French – at the time
of their and our revolutions – who called news people “the Third Estate” – with
the corrupt government of elite nobles and the oppressed common people as the
other two “estates.”  But nowhere in the
world but the U.S. has the press been truly free.  Nowhere else has it held government feet to
the fire.  Think Pentagon Papers.  Think Watergate.  News people are key to our way of life both
for keeping us informed and for enforcing accountability by those in power.  But their effectiveness has been blunted by
the erosion of public trust.

Jay Rosen, Associate Professor of NYU’s Carter Journalism
Institute, had some telling things to say on the subject at a recent Digital
Breakfast event organized jointly by Gotham Media Ventures and Frankfurt Kurnit
Klein & Selz:

“To get people to recognize the real world, to recognize
facts (and not just accept information that validates their point of view), we
need trusted news tellers . . . To have a democracy, you have to try to engage
people where they are.  The availability
of alternative sources of information allows us to check accuracy . . . The
failure of the press to hold government accountable on the Iraq war led to
serious mistrust of the media.

”When media produce the same kind of news they did when they
were a monopoly, this causes mistrust; yet new tools are adding new power for
journalists, and journalists can be way better.

”Participatory journalism – citizen journalism – occurs when
the news audience uses press tools to inform one another – the Internet,
digital cameras, blogging and videos,. 
Since they have the power and occasionally want to alert others to an
opinion or experience, they have the ability to report.  It’s all one system with lots of people
collaborating on a single story.

“I hope for a powerful combination of professional
journalists working with distributed networks of caring citizens in spite of
all the irresponsible bloggers and elitists complaining about the open Internet.”

Mr. Rosen’s hope is clearly shared by others.  We see evidence of this in the emergence of at
least two organizations.  In New York,  ProPublica, a not-for-profit newsroom that
produces investigative journalism in the public interest by using a pro-am
model of professional journalists and a distributed network of 2,500 citizen
journalists.  In Vancouver, NowPublic,
now part of  Both are citizen journalist networks being used
to create local news sites on a pro-am model with a positive cost model. 

the hybrid pro-am model part of the answer to cost-effective news
gathering?  Might it also 
help restore
public trust in news tellers?  Only time
will tell

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