Breaking out from the traditional journalist’s mould can be daunting for most as it entails opening the mind to alien concepts and learning new skills.
YOU would think journalists would be at the forefront of blogging, creating podcasts and even making short video clips for YouTube. At the very least you expect them to be active participants in online discussions, forums and blog commentary.
But they are not, and this is true even of online journalists €“ those who work for online news organisations. For some reason, this is the situation, not just in Malaysia and but even in the US.
Amy Gahran, a new media specialist has noted that even in industry specific blogs like E-Media Tidbits, where journalists are the intended audience, for every public comment that she posts to Tidbits, she receives two to three private e-mails from fellow journalists commenting on the topic.
Generally, these private e-mails are not particularly sensitive, such as a journalist providing inside information about their employer that they might get in trouble for sharing, says Gahran. More often, they’re simple questions, comments, criticisms or opinions.
“When I get these e-mails, I generally respond with, ‘Good point. Why don’t you post that as a public comment to my post, and I’ll respond to you there?’
Typically, according to Gahran, that’s where the conversation stops; no corresponding comment appears on the blog.
She thinks this has to do with what she calls the “toxic culture” which pervades in journalism and news circles. By that, she means the “close-minded and helpless” attitudes that she encounters from too many journalists.
Gahran lists six core reasons for this toxic culture:
> The only journalism that counts is that done by mainstream news orgs, especially in print or broadcast form. Alternative, independent, online, collaborative, community, and other approaches to news are assumed to be inferior or even dangerous.
> Priesthood syndrome: Traditional journalists are the sole source of news that can and should be trusted €“ which gives them a privileged and sacred role that society is ethically obligated to support.
> Journalists and journalism cannot survive without traditional news orgs, which offer the only reliable, ethical, and credible support for a journalistic career.
> Real journalists only do journalism. They don’t dirty their hands or distract themselves with business and business models, learning new tools, building community, finding new approaches to defining and covering news, etc.
> Journalistic status and authority demands aloofness. This leads to a myriad of problems such as believing you’re smarter than most people in your community; refusing to “compromise” yourself professionally by engaging in frank public conversation with your community; and using objectivity as an excuse to be uncaring, cynical, or disdainful.
> Good journalism doesn’t change much. So if it is changing significantly, it must be dying. Which in turn means the world is in big trouble, and probably deserves what it will get.
It is these kinds of attitudes that are keeping journalists from adapting and thriving in the New Media landscape.
Gahran’s list is quite comprehensive. Any of the reasons she listed could apply here too, but in surveying the local situation I often come across two core reasons.
Firstly, there is a bit of that superiority complex, especially relating to the notion that “real journalists only do journalism” and that Web 2.0 stuff, especially blogging, is for amateurs, journalist wannabes and out-of-work journalists.
The other reason often cited is that there’s simply not enough time, which is hokum. I’m well equipped to debunk that as I’ve been involved in journalism all my working life and have worked from the ground up in various news organisations locally and overseas. Journalists have enough time to blog or create podcasts and videocasts if they want to.
Part of the reason could also be that learning new skill sets is always a daunting task. I still remember my initial resistance to learning how to shoot photographs. After that, there was the reluctance to learn how to edit audio. And after that, the same thing happened with video editing.
I learned every new thing with trepidation. I guess it’s human nature to want to stick with what we know.
With Web 2.0, there are so many new things you have to learn besides technical skills that allow you to create New Media content.
As Gahran puts it: “As journalists, we don’t want to learn how to think like an entrepreneur, or an information architect, or a community manager. We just want to keep doing what we know how to do; we didn’t sign up for all this extra stuff.”
She adds that even though despair is a natural result of prolonged fear and difficulty €“ when too many people in any culture are in despair, that culture can easily become toxic (overwhelmingly negative to the point of becoming self-destructive or self-defeating).
And that is what has enveloped news organisations today. But it’s a situation that really should change.
“The way I see it, right now is a time of immense opportunity for journalism and journalists to take on a broader and even more vital role in society,” says Gahran. “It’s a chance for journalists to not only continue doing good work, but maybe also to have more impact than ever before.
“If they can make this progress within updated, adapted news organisations, fine. But if not, they can find ways to do it independently, collaboratively, or by founding new supporting institutions or businesses.”
Of course not all journalists feel that way. I know a few who are dying to get involved in New Media and are starting to, on their own effort. I know of two magazine editors who are contemplating quitting their jobs to go freelance just so they have more time to do New Media stuff like create their own blogs and videocasts.
Whether they can make money from it is hard to say but one of them told me when I asked him why he’s doing this: “The thing that I can’t stand is that I’m seeing the online revolution happening before my very eyes and I’m not a part of it.”