March 10, 2004

Expectations and Citizen Journalism

Dave Winer posts his notes from a Berkman Center discussion on citizen journalism, politics weblogs, and raises the idea that the news business is contributing to its own decline by aiming coverage at the lowest common public denominator, thereby forcing consumers who want more sophisticated information to look elsewhere -- in this case to fellow citizens through their blogs.

Winer writes:

"In 2004, our expectation for information is much greater than it was just ten years ago. Today we're surprised when information is not available, and expect it to be available shortly. Example: When is Easter this year? That's hard to find (but the info is available on the Web). In a few years we expect it to be easy.

"Our expectation for finding information is going up, as the economics of professional journalism force them to dumb-down coverage and lay off reporters. So the vaccuum is being filled from a variety of sources, including other citizens." (Emphasis added)

News is a commodity. That is now a given. Even local news, which I have long argued is a franchise saver for newspapers, is threatened by continuing attempts to aggregate it online. (See the recent launch of Topix as an example, which, while drawing on newspapers as sources, extends its news feed beyond them to TV, trades and online news producers.)

While newspapers must continue to be in the basic news business (a good question though is how to reshape and scale that basic reporting), and even should become online aggregators themselves to preserve their position as a dominant news source, their sole distinguishing capability from other daily media is the production of quality journalism. Newspapers remain the largest local and regional repositories of trained journalists. They have more people, more gear and, still in most cases, more audience, than any other individual medium.

But without a commitment to excellence -- and that means turning their full attention to their audience, their community, their potential readers -- newspapers will be further relegated to irrelevance by readers who want informed reporting, contextual information and, at times, sophisticated argument.

Citizen journalism, as Winer said, is growing because it is meeting a demand.

Posted by Tim Porter at March 10, 2004 09:25 AM