During Thursday’s P2P panel discussion on collaborative journalism, Dan Gillmor of the San Jose Mercury News characterized journalism over the last 50 years as a lecture. I had never thought of it that way.
If he meant lecture in the sense of a one-way monologue, however, I agree with him. But now, thanks to technology, journalists must open their office windows and listen to what is being said about their writing.
I remember the most painful writing job I ever had was for the campus paper in college. Why? Because I was so accessible to those who read my column. If I wrote something stupid, then I heard about it at breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
The dumbest thing I ever wrote during that stint was a music review of Boston’s first album. I commented that this new band depended way too much on technical wizardry instead of focusing on compelling arrangements.
Boy, did I get an ear full after that published. And rightly so — Boston’s first album became a mega hit. In fact, because of the student revolt I created on campus, I was relieved of my music review duties.
The point of the story is that it’s much easier to get away with writing dumb stuff when you’re not directly accountable to your audience. Now, thanks to the maturing network, there’s no longer anywhere to hide.
According to Gillmor and others, new tools such as weblogs and moderated forums are moving journalism from lecture to conversation. Writers have to deal with the nearly instantaneous feedback that their readers deliver. My guess is that some journalists don’t care for this change.
The irony is, that people have always thought we were idiots when we wrote dumb things. The only difference is that now they can tell us.