We are the public and the public is us. Both the “we” and the “us” in this case are journalists. This was the point of NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen‘s recent address to aspiring journalists at a new university program in Paris.
What I like about the speech, as Rosen himself points out in the above post, is that he lifts his advice above the usual “job skills” stuff. Of course you have to know how to use audio and video etc., etc., etc. But more importantly you have to grab hold of the idea that journalism as a concept is making a giant evolutionary step. Rosen lays out a tidy historical analysis of why this is so (which, by the way, is a wonderful example of why history matters in this discussion) before dispensing a series of bullet points – a sort of manifesto, and an important one. My two cents after each are basically paraphrases.
• Replace readers, viewers, listeners and consumers with the term “users.”
A platform-agnostic term that implies that the person on the other end has a stake in your work and you have a stake in their interest and participation.
• Remember: the users know more than you do.
The old Dan Gillmor line. Adding a twist from an old advertising cliche: The user is not an idiot, he is your husband.
• There’s been a power shift; the mutualization of journalism is here.
We – journalists and users – are in this together. We inform one another.
• Describe the world in a way that helps people participate in it.
Help users connect to your story. The things you are describing are real; report them as such.
• Anyone can doesn’t mean everyone will.
Not everyone wants to participate. In fact, most people don’t. But don’t forget that they are able to.
• The journalist is just a heightened case of an informed citizen, not a special class
Journalism requires skill, but these are skills that are intuitive for most people. But most people have neither the time nor the energy to act on the impulse to gather information and tell people about it. That’s why they need you.
• Your authority starts with, “I’m there, you’re not, let me tell you about it.
Bearing witness is your first duty.
• Somehow, you need to listen to demand and give people what they have no way to demand.
If you’re in synch with users’ information needs, they will pay attention when you want them to.
• In your bid to be trusted, don’t take the View From Nowhere; instead, tell people where you’re coming from
Here Rosen borrows from Dave Weinberger: “Transparency is the new objectivity.”
• Breathe deeply of what DeTocqueville said: “Newspapers make associations and associations make newspapers.”
A key role for journalists is to “create spaces” for people with associations – like interests and shared endeavor.