Online journalism: Why MSM still doesn’t get it

Posted on September 28, 2009 
Filed Under Blogs, Journalism

Alfred Hermida suggests that editors and journalists in the mainstream media still see themselves as the gatekeepers and the people “formerly known as the audience” is still the audience to them:

“The space for the audience to participate in journalism is, by and large, clearly delineated. The public can send in their news tips, photos and videos, but the journalist retains a traditional gatekeeper role, deciding what is newsworthy and what isn’t. There is little room for the public to be involved in the actual making of the news — in deciding whom to interview, how to frame the story and how to produce it. Once the story is complete and published, the audience can freely comment on the final product.”

Some valid points:

1. No change in old media: “A growing body of research suggests that the advent of participatory journalism, or user-generated content (UGC), has done little to change the way the media works.”
2. Journalists still too controlling: “Journalists are seeking to maintain their position of authority and power, rather than create a more open, transparent and accountable journalistic process that seeks to work with readers.”
3. UGC seen as just as a tool for newsgathering not collaboration: “BBC staff see UGC as a part of newsgathering operations; basically, it’s a way of obtaining photos and videos, eyewitness accounts or story tips. Researchers did find some examples of BBC journalists that view it as a way to collaborate on stories, or as a shift towards networked journalism. But these views existed at the edges.”
4. Comments are seen as more work: “Comments were seen as a way to attract more visitors and increase loyalty, but these benefits were counterbalanced by problems with abusive comments, a lack of contributions, and the cost of moderation.”
5. Audience free to comment but not take part in creating: “There are very few signs that news organizations are reinventing their relationship with the audience and tapping into the participatory potential of the web to re-imagine journalism.”

Hermida’s commentary contrasts with former chairman of Dow Jones & Co Peter Kann’s piece in WSJ recently lamenting the “decline of democracy” and that “Quality Reporting Doesn’t Come Cheap”

Kann’s assertions are typical of old media titans still wanting to suckle on the cash cow of old media even while it heads to the abattoir.

Kann’s Martian analogy makes his case even more ridiculous. He says: “Indeed, a business analyst landing here from Mars logically might question why an unwieldy newsprint product, stale as soon as it rolls off the press and not updated till another sun rises, should not be free whereas the new Internet product, offering all the same news plus more and evolving as does the news around the clock, should not be worth a pretty price? An even wiser Martian might conclude that customers should be given a choice, or offered a combination, but that they should be expected to pay for both.”

Hah. I am sure any alien of superior intelligence arriving here would wonder why it took us so long to figure out that printing ink on flattened trees was far more destructive to our planet, regardless of the business considerations of setting up paywalls to supposedly save “the future of news.”

Mr Kann’s belief that the public is “the loser” from the rise of the Internet and blogs – which, in his narrow view, is all about “comment” – must be reading a different Internet. The net has brought more diversity to news as content than any other single news organisation or indeed collectives of news publishers.

And the public, Mr Kann, is now the winner on many counts – more access, interactivity, better viewpoints, clearer visuals, richer content, and the immense capacity to add, share, mould and re-distribute the news as they see fit.

The net is empowering us as a whole new generation of citizens of the world. News should be what we make of it, not what a few people want to dictate it to be behind their walled gardens and ivory towers. And this is why your empire will continue to crumble, with false prophets like Mr Kann preaching about “saving democracy”, when in truth, they only want to marginalize the many to enrich the few.

Note: Alfred Hermida blogs at


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