Jay Rosen was quoted as saying:
Typically when people like me—a professor of journalism who is deeply involved in the digital world—advise people like you—students just starting their careers in journalism—we say to you things like:
You need to be blogging.
You need to understand search engines.
You need to know Flash and perhaps HTML5.
You need to grasp web metrics like Google analytics.
You need to know how to record audio or edit video
You need to “get” mobile. ("Mobile is going to be big!")
And all of those things are true. They are all important. But I want to go in a completely different direction today. Ready? You need to understand that the way you imagine the users will determine how useful a journalist you will be.
Now I will explain what this phrase—seeing people as a public—means to journalists for your generation. Here are some of its implications.
1. Replace readers, viewers, listeners and consumers with the term “users.” What do we call the people on the other end of the journalism transaction? My suggestion is to be less platform-centric; rather than naming them for the tool you are using to reach them, just call them the users, a term I borrowed from the way Dave Winer employs it. Users is a more active identity, it works for all platforms, and as I said earlier: the way you imagine the users will determine how useful a journalist you will be.
2. Remember: the users know more than you do. I adapted this from Dan Gillmor's famous declaration: "My readers know more than I do." It means that, in the aggregate, the people on the receiving end have more knowledge, more contacts, more experience and more good ideas than a single journalist can ever have. This was always true, it was true in the 1950s, but the Internet allows those people-—the ones who know more than you do—to actually reach (and teach) you with that knowledge. Look at it this way: The most valuable thing the New York Times owns is its name and reputation. The second most valuable thing it has: the talent and experience of its staff. The third most valuable thing the Times "owns" is the knowledge and sophistication of its users. And if it cannot find a way to get some of that flowing in, so as to improve the editorial product, then it will have failed to capitalize on an immense strategic advantage. And I am convinced the editors of the Times know this.
3: There’s been a power shift; the mutualization of journalism is here. This is Alan Rusbridger's idea: "the mutualised news organization." He's the editor of The Guardian in the U.K. What he means is...
We bring important things to the table – editing; reporting; areas of expertise; access; a title, or brand, that people trust; ethical professional standards and an extremely large community of readers. The members of that community could not hope to aspire to anything like that audience or reach on their own; they bring us a rich diversity, specialist expertise and on the ground reporting that we couldn't possibly hope to achieve without including them in what we do.
We bring important things to the table, and so do the users. Therefore we include them. "Seeing people as a public" means that.
4: Describe the world in a way that helps people participate in it. When people participate, they seek out information. Information providers would do well to recognize this connection. As I told The Economist:
My own view is that journalists should describe the world in a way that helps us participate in political life. That is what they are "for". But too often they position us as savvy analysts of a scene we are encouraged to view from a certain distance, as if we were spectators to our own democracy, or clever manipulators of our fellow citizens. Weird, isn't it?
As a writer for The Economist said after this was published: "Perhaps 'political' is unnecessarily limiting. More generally, it is the job of journalists to describe the world in a way that helps us participate in all life—political, local, civic, cultural, etc." Correct.
5: Anyone can doesn’t mean everyone will. Students of social media and behavior on the Net are highly aware of the one percent rule, which has been observed in a wide variety of online settings:
It's an emerging rule of thumb that suggests that if you get a group of 100 people online then one will create content, 10 will 'interact' with it (commenting or offering improvements) and the other 89 will just view it... So what's the conclusion? Only that you shouldn't expect too much online. Certainly, to echo Field of Dreams, if you build it, they will come. The trouble, as in real life, is finding the builders.
My way of putting this is, "anyone can doesn't mean everyone will." But the fact that "anyone can" is still important because you can never predict who will accept your invitation. Knowing this rule helps us keep our expectations in check. Seeing people as a public doesn't mean deluding ourselves about what they are willing to do. It's important to neither under-estimate nor over-estimate what the people formerly known as the audience are up for.
6: The journalist is just a heightened case of an informed citizen, not a special class. Journalism isn't like brain surgery, or piloting a Boeing 747. A professional journalist knows how to get information, ask questions, tell stories and connect isolated facts. These are not esoteric or specialized skills, just heightened versions of things any smart citizen should be able to do. We see this most clearly when citizens have a chance to substitute for reporters and ask questions of candidates during debates. They generally do as well as or better than professional journalists. That is a clue.
7: Your authority starts with, “I’m there, you’re not, let me tell you about it.” If "anyone" can produce media and share it with the world, what makes the pro journalist special, or worth listening to? Not the press card, not the by-line, not the fact of employment by a major media company. None of that. The most reliable source of authority for a professional journalist will continue to be what James W. Carey called "the idea of a report." That's when you can truthfully say to the users, "I'm there, you're not, let me tell you about it." Or, "I was at the demonstration, you weren't, let me tell you how the cops behaved." Or, altering my formula slightly, "I interviewed the workers who were on that oil drilling platform when it exploded, you didn't, let me tell you what they said." Or, "I reviewed those documents, you didn't, let me tell you what I found." Your authority begins when you do the work. If an amateur or a blogger does the work, the same authority is earned. Seeing people as a public means granting that without rancor.
8: Somehow, you need to listen to demand and give people what they have no way to demand. The Web effortlessly records what people do with it. Therefore it is easy to measure user behavior: what people are interested in, what they are searching for, clicking on, turning to... right now. What should a smart journalists do with this "live" information? I just told you: you should listen to demand, but also give people what they have no way to demand because they don't know about it yet. In fact, there is a relationship between these things. The better you are at listening to demand, the more likely it is that the users will listen to you when you demand of them: pay attention! You may not think this is important or interesting, but trust me... it matters. Or: "This is good." Ignoring what the users want is dumb in one way; editing by click rate is dumb in a different way. Respect for the users lies in between these two. Get it?
9: In your bid to be trusted, don’t take the View From Nowhere; instead, tell people where you’re coming from. Treating people as a public means refusing to float "above" them. Instead of claiming that you have no view, no stake, no perspective, no (sorry for the academic term) situated self, try to level with the users and let them know where you are coming from. As David Weinberger puts it. "transparency is the new objectivity." You may find that trust is easier to negotiate if you don't claim the View from Nowhere, but instead tell them where you're coming from. (Here's my attempt to do exactly that as a critic.)
10: Breathe deeply of what DeTocqueville said: “Newspapers make associations and associations make newspapers.” Alexis De Tocqueville, a Frenchman, visited the United States in the 1830s. Among the observations he made was: "newspapers make associations and associations make newspapers." What I think he meant was: wherever people have a common interest and wish to discuss it, there lies an opportunity for a smart journalist. Today one of the things that is fast changing our world is the falling cost for like minded people--people who share the same interest, problem or fascination--to locate each other, share information, pool what they know, and publish back to the world the results of their interactions. The Net makes this act increasingly common. For example, people with a health problem that medical science has been unable to treat will find each other over the Net and begin to discuss their condition. They're an association. Smart journalists will pick up on this and realize: there's a story there. Want to be useful online? Find a previously atomized group that shares a common interest and create a space for their association.
I conclude: The struggle to make the fiction of an informed and engaged public more factual—that is, realer—continues on. When technology and markets change, new things become thinkable within that struggle. And so journalism itself has graduated to the next stage of its development. Bonne chance!