Understanding the Citizen Journalist
LIBN Editor Joe Dowd gives insight into the evolution of modern news and journalistic integrity
A young woman asked me this week what it was like in the bad-old days of newspapers.
“Did you use a typewriter?” she asked.
I most certainly did.
I mentioned how we’d call in stories from payphones in bars. She looked at me as one who ponders a fossil or holy relic.
Back then, newspapers were considerably different. When you wrote a story, it had to go through at least two or three editors to get into print and the product you were working on would actually come out sometime early the next morning.
And, if you wanted to comment on a story or a great issue of the day, a reader would write a letter to the editor, which had to be signed and vetted by another editor. Sometimes, if the comments passed muster, they would run in an upcoming edition.
The vast majority didn’t make the cut.
The internet changed all of that.
Two decades have passed since news organizations decided that, in order to be competitive, they had to provide their online content for free, on a website that they could not yet monetize and which a large segment of its readership did not understand.
The experts didn’t stop there, insisting our websites must be interactive. They predicted the rise of the “citizen-journalist,” armed only with a Twitter account, who would gladly provide instant, reliable information to news outlets, apparently at no charge. Of course, these dispatches would be perfectly accurate and unbiased.
And, they said, let the public comment freely on our stories in a vast, interactive exchange of ideas across the World Wide Web. Somehow, dried-up revenue streams would flow again like West Texas crude.
What could possibly go wrong?
A lot. Yet newspapers and newsgathering are, perhaps, stronger than ever. There are indications we’re on a path to a new future.
The industry is leaner, faster and smarter. Niche publications like Long Island Business News are thriving. Metro dailies are beginning to tighten their paywalls. New management realizes we provide valuable information that costs money to produce. Even the New York Daily News recently instituted a paywall. A free press isn’t free. Credibility is value added.
Newsday is on to something as it reassess its comment format. Over the weekend it closed online comments for an unspecified amount of time in order to come up with a new format.