Australian citizen journalism and blogging have passed a milestone, if not come of age.
That’s the conclusion emerging from the first academic analyses of the ways in which various new media experiments and blogging influenced the 2007 election campaign.
Two papers published online in the last few weeks cast some light on the lessons that can be drawn. Both conclude that citizen journalism had a real, though small impact on the way Kevin07’s ascent was reported by the mainstream media.
And both conclude that the media model of the future will be pro-am – a small core of media professionals surrounded by, supported and critiqued by a swarm of amateurs who will be both audience and colleagues.
If professional journalists are “gatekeepers”, able to decide what gets reported and how, they are now going to have to learn to live with increasingly active “gatewatchers”, who will both critique what journalists do, and generate their own, different, material.
In this paper, Dr Axel Burns of the Queensland University of Technology analyses four new media ventures – the left leaning blog Larvatus Prodeo, the QUT sponsored experiment YouDecide2007, in which ordinary voters were encouraged to submit news from the electorates, our very own Possums Pollytics blog, with its in depth poll analysis, and ABC Online’s blogs.
Burns runs through the stoush between Possum and Denis Shanahan at The Australian – now notorious in blog land (details here) and concludes that the professional journalists were shown up as being amateurs in the field of poll analysis. Meanwhile the amateur journalists (but professional psephologists) simply knew more.
Towards the end of the election campaign, even the mainstream press finally began to accept that they had been bested by these professionals acting as citizen journalists: gradually, information about margins of error (long called for by the pseph-bloggers) did appear in news reports, and one journalist writing for Brisbane’s Courier-Mail even broke ranks with the general antipathy towards the psephologists in News Ltd. publications, and substantially used Possum Pollytics and similar blogs as sources for a story on the polls.
Burns concludes that the divide between professionals and amateurs is closing, and the future lies in hybrid models. Mainstream media is crucial in citizen journalism gaining notoriety and prominence – but the monopoly of professional journalists on the publication of news and views has gone forever.
So what will the journalist of the future look like? Answers are suggested by one of the principals of the YouDecide2007 project, Jason Wilson, who coins a new term – “preditor” in this article to describe the work that must be done by the “pros” at the centre of future “pro-am” media organisations.
The term is a combination of “producer” and “editor”. Preditors must do four kinds of work: the traditional journalistic job of researching and creating content, but also the work of networking and building communities. They must also be technically adept.
The professional skills and some of the ethos of traditional journalism remain relevant. Preditors must be comfortable with newsgathering, writing and editing copy, be cognizant of publishing law and regulation, have a strong sense of news values, and be committed to ethical standards, balance and fairness in their own practice. But other skills, not traditionally part of the journalist’s repertoire, come into play…preditors must also have the ability to establish collaborative interpersonal and professional relationships, and webs of content syndication, across the online news environment. Further, they must be able to serve, guide and sometimes manage a content-making community that includes not just readers, but users who have become, in effect, colleagues.
All this has implications for journalism training, says Wilson. New skills need to be taught.
The future of journalism, it seems, will be conversation. Nobody gets to keep the megaphone to themselves.
And while nobody is yet suggesting that bloggers have the same impact in Australia as those in the USA, the gatewatchers are gaining strength, significance and skills, and are not going to go away.