Comments: "Two-way" journalism and "Planet Of The Apes"


The claim is not that journalism has never before cared for what readers think.

It is that new technology makes it easier for readers to speak out. That in turn makes their voices more easily registered by the journalists.

Posted by Karl-Friedrich Lenz at March 18, 2004 06:21 AM

My question: Is technology really the bottleneck? Most especially, the bottleneck to journalists registering dissonant voices about their stories?

Posted by Seth Finkelstein at March 18, 2004 10:38 AM

I think the truth is obvious. Journalism has always been about exercising power. It goes without saying that this is a significant motivation for many journalists. It's not a high paying profession, generally, and working conditions aren't great. But journalists have the power to influence people, to frame political and social questions, to bring problems to the attention of the public. At the highest levels, endorsements and editorial positions can exert great influence over political issues. This is where we get the historical notion of journalism as a "fourth estate", equal in power to the three conventional branches of government.

Given the reality that journalism is about power, it is unsurprising that input from the public is unwelcome. People are there to be molded and influenced, not to complain and argue. At best, public input is useful feedback to determine how well the journalists are exercising their influence and manipulative skills. And likewise, new forums for public voices (like blogs) are also perceived as a challenge rather than welcomed into the brotherhood. These all serve to dilute the power exercised by traditional journalists.

Posted by Cypherpunk at March 18, 2004 01:30 PM

Xian has part of the answer, Seth. Someone else who does is Tim Porter at First Draft. Follow the link to some of his better posts. My short answer is this: it's not that newspapers and journalists were uninterested in "readers" or had no contact with an alien species.

The rhetoric of "serving readers" was everywhere in the industry from the late 1980s on. The Reader was constantly invoked in journalism discussions, too, but this is different from having a lot of human contact with actual readers, listening to what they say, or dealing with what they write.

Prior to the Internet, metropolitan daily journalism was pretty insulated from readers and their complaints, let alone their ideas. You have to grasp how extreme this isolation could be. A team of journalists might work for weeks on a large story, and be pleased to get three or four letters and a couple of phone calls as their total reaction. The normal condition was to hear nothing from anybody after a story.

For hard data, there was market research that told something about readers; there was also the journalist's disdain for marketing (editing by the numbers), which led to fears of "caving in" to readers. That gaves you some sense of the factors that were operating... then.

Posted by Jay Rosen at March 18, 2004 04:05 PM

... That in turn makes their voices more easily registered by the journalists

It may or it may not. As a journalist I know which I prefer: a hundred emails in my inbox, or a hundred blogs I can ignore.

Posted by Andrew Orlowski at March 19, 2004 05:52 PM

The impetus behind much of this "blogs will revolutionize journalism" fervor appears to be a deep and difficult-to-understand hostility toward journalists.

I don't understand this "two-way" business and see no value coming to me after blogs-with-agendas attacked real journalists.

If bloggers couldn't consume the news that journalists write and publish, they'd have precious little to write about. Now, some bloggers imagine that public sniping at journalists is going to result in better journalism. That assertion begs the question: Why should anyone pay attention to bloggers?

The job of journalists is to find, write and publish stories about the news. Blogs are an alternative place to publish news, but few, if any, bloggers engage in the finding and writing of news. Bloggers typically tell us what they think about the news that real journalists have created. That activity has something in common with talk show invective and the barking pundits on television: A parasitic relationship with news.

Posted by billg at March 21, 2004 09:03 AM