Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Jarvis issues meme recall

Over at Buzzmachine, Jeff is now having second thoughts about his somewhat creepy term "citizen journalism" now that it has become ubiquitous:

I think a better term for what I've been calling citizen journalism might be networked journalism.

Networked journalism takes into account the collaborative nature of journalism now: professionals and amateurs working together to get the real story, linking to each other across brands and old boundaries to share facts, questions, answers, ideas, perspectives. It recognizes the complex relationships that will make news. And it focuses on the process more than the product.

I carry some of the blame for pushing citizens media and citizen journalism as terms to describe the phenomenon we are witnessing in this new era of news. Many of us were never satisfied with the terms, and for good reason.


One of the interesting quirks of the new media is that it's about ten thousand times easier to put something out there than to reel it back in. Whereas more traditional forms of publishing and broadcasting had natural choke-points which allowed for factual corrections or editorial second thoughts, nowadays there's really no way to stop a meme once it gets loose. Unfortunately for all of us, the terms "citizen journalism" and "citizens media" happened to get reiterated on all the right blogs at the right time to stick, so I suspect that it will take some doing to pry them back out of the blogosphere's working lexicon.

In Jarvis' defense, he's right -- such terms were an attempt to pin down in words something for which we had no exact fit. The problem is that coining a new word can often have unforeseen consequences:

They [i.e., citizens media and citizen journalism] imply that the actor defines the act and that's not true in a time when anyone can make journalism. This also divides journalism into distinct camps, which only prolongs a problem of professional journalism - its separation from its public (as Jay Rosen points out). In addition, many professional journalists have objected that these terms imply that they are not acting as citizens themselves - and, indeed, I believe that the more that journalists behave like citizens, the stronger their journalism will be.

Again, I see what Jarvis is trying to say, but this ends up being a rather circular argument: professional journalists can avoid being offended by my new terminology by agreeing to behave according to my rules. In this way he is able to sidestep the problem that the blogosphere's choice of words in framing itself was designed to be deliberately provocative and has in no small part helped create the quite nasty blood feud which now exists between the professionals and their amateur blogger counterparts.

Now would this antagonism between old and new media have existed anyway, even without the pointed neologisms? To some degree, I'm sure. But words have power. Attempts at classification and categorization don't just describe the world, but in a very powerful and often unacknowledged way shape it as well. So if Jarvis et al are now rethinking their choice of words, does that mean they're beginning to reconsider their animosity towards the ancien regime as well? The revolutionary zeal that has characterized the new media's assault on traditional forms of publishing and broadcasting seems to have begun to temper somewhat as players on both sides sense a new equilibrium falling into place. Maybe this means we can expend less virtual ink on slagging each other for being on the wrong side of the digital divide and spend more time trying to figure out how to capitalize on the potential synergies between paper and its digital counterpart.

1 comment:

Kevin K. said...


Just wanted to let you know that I've always enjoyed your comments at the Buzz Machine. I haven't been visiting him much since he laid off suckling at the bosom of Debra Burlingame, so it was nice to see you take him on again when he jammed his head back into the echo chamber to take on Superman.