Whether he was serious or not, Andrew Marr’s scathing description of citizen journalism certainly threw an interesting shade on the subject-of-the-week at Cardiff Journalism School.
After the fast-paced discussion of the role of Social Media by Claire Wardle of the BBC’s College of Journalism, something which stuck with me was her reference to Jay Rosen’s article about The People Formerly known as the Audience and their changing role from reactors to interactors. It got me wondering, if readers are to users as magazines are to tablets, what are journalists to?
When I wored at my local paper, my editor used to quote Mark Twain, saying that the mark of a good news story was one which someone, somewhere did not want published. As an inexperienced local reporter, I came across many such people of a publication-day morning.
Once, when I had been in the job a matter of weeks, I wrote a very small article saying there had been rumours that the local Post Office was going to close. I had been unable to get confirmation from the press office or representatives at the local branch, but my editor said that rumours themselves were justifiable news, so we went with that. Come Friday morning, I received a visit from the local postmistress who explained in no uncertain terms just how mistaken we had been, and that I was a disgrace to journalism in general and the elderly Post Office users in particular. I think she would have given me a journalism-ASBO if she could.
Needless to say, we printed a clarification/apology the following week, I realised that being the local reporter meant taking verbal punches with the glory no matter who was ultimately responsible, and began to walk the extra mile whenever I needed to post a parcel.
So is it terrifying to face the prospect that the people ‘formerly known as the audience’ will soon be brought that significant step closer to the journalists themselves? No. Not really. Because another point I picked up from Claire’s words, as well as those of the many respected journalists who spoke at Friday’s Tomorrow’s Journalism Conference, was that quality journalism stood to be enhanced by the future, not damaged.
I agree with this. I think that there is a level of security facilitated by distance from the consumer which the weekly newspaper journalist/ columnist/ TV and radio reporter has when delivering a story in a controversial way. Users who can comment directly and immediately on journalism provide a challenge to the journalist to step up their game. There is no room for error or complacency anymore, the bar has been raised, and that is why it is so exciting to be training right now. Because in some ways we are training to be multi-tasking journalists of the juggling-small-children-while-riding-a-camel-on-roller-skates calibre.
Having said that, try not to aggravate the local postal workers. The buzz is no match for the looming realisation that you’ve run out of stamps.