Raising the ante

How has the Internet changed journalism? Can journalism survive in a world where there are no longer any “gatekeepers” and if so, what will it look like? I’m at a symposium in honor of Phil Meyer, author of Precision Journalism, at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill where these big questions and many others are being discussed.

Scott Maier of the University of Oregon believes journalism will survive because editors will become “navigators,” finding news in different places and helping people discover it. They need the same judgment skills journalists have always needed, Maier said, but they also have to understand that the definition of credibility has changed, because accuracy is in the eye of the beholder and many people seek news that favors their point of view.

Mark Briggs of the News Tribune in Tacoma, Wash., said today’s audience decides what kind of journalism they want, not the old gatekeepers, so a navigator’s most important role is to facilitate a discussion about the news. What the audience wants is interactive, immediate and transparent, Briggs said, a lesson re-learned in the past week when his paper’s comments section went down. The newsroom was flooded with angry calls and emails from people who wanted to participate in the news as a conversation, but couldn’t.

Briggs also talked about how reporting and delivering the news have changed. Some reporters are now “beat blogging,” forming social networks around their beats to develop stories and engage people who are not involved in news otherwise. [Here’s an example I discovered a few weeks ago from a New Jersey newspaper reporter.] A well-connected reporter is obviously going to break more stories, but Briggs says that today’s well-connected reporter should take source development public. As for news delivery, Briggs says the linear narrative has given way to short bursts, like SMS text messages. How will news organizations communicate to these consumers? What is journalism today now that the construct of the narrative has broken down? Is journalism writing code, like everyblock.com?

Whatever it is, it’s not going to be easy work. “Some wag once said that journalism is the place where the best of the second class minds go,” said Gil Thelen, former publisher of the Tampa Tribune. A navigator has to be a talented reporter, analyst, convener and multimedia “super-journo.” And students are asking who’s going to pay them to do all that. “I tell them they have to be entrepreneurial and there is a grain of truth in that,” Thelen said. “All journalists are going to be working in non-bureaucratic organizations. We’ve got to do some serious work to answer the question, ‘How am I going to make a living in a new media world?'”

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