Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Journalism Idol

The traditional media industry is up in arms over the internet.  When fast internet first started zipping around the country, the traditional print media like the New York Times shot itself in the foot by posting its content online for free; this is nothing new - I've written about it in earlier blog posts.  A newspaper can't operate without paying its reporters, and online, subscription-free newspapers with little ad-supported revenue is a disaster waiting to happen.  
I want more people to have access to free online content just as much as the next American, but my family (I don't have one of my own yet, but when I do) comes first and if I can't feed them because I work for the Times and they barely pay me - that's a problem.
This is the dooms day scenario the traditional print media has dealt with, but the broadcast business has dealt with its own demons - citizen journalists.  
A big threat to the traditional broadcast boys and cable is citizen journalism.  Citizen journalists witness interesting things happen in their hometown, shoot some amateur shaky video of the event and post it online. The initial response from traditional broadcasters was to play nice with these citizen journalists by having them submit their content to the traditional broadcaster.  Not a bad idea - CNN gets free content from a citizen journalist, and the citizen journalist gets to tell grandma that his footage was on CNN.  A win-win!  Jon Stuart made fun of the lengths CNN would go to make citizen journalists feel welcome, a part of the CNN team.  
So, what's the problem if CNN is capitalizing on these amateur journalists? Nothing at all.  The concern is that these citizen journalists won't be treated by CNN as amateur videographers for long.  After all, what happens when these citizen journalists start to organize?  There's nothing threatening to traditional broadcasters when a couple techy people edit some sequences together on iMovie; however, CNN has a problem if these techy people form a techy coalition, through their techy blogs, websites and social networks to form a citizen journalism network, an outlet that can compete with the traditional media.  All of a sudden, a couple harmless videographers evolve into a huge threat for the traditional broadcasters like CNN.
Same old story: one guy sitting in his truck in a parking lot is a lonely man who can do you no harm; but, take ten grown men and put them in the back of a pickup and you have a gang.  Two weeks ago, these citizen journalists were as threatening as that one lonely man. But just this week Youtube gave these citizen journalists gang status.  
Youtube launched the Reporters' Center, which trains citizen journalists on how to shoot, edit and write stories.  It even has tips on how to market and distribute the citizen journalism content.  Youtube is acting like a Journalism school, posting five-minute videos of Katie Couric and Bob Woodward offering interviewing and reporting tips.  What's the point of the journalism degree if Katie can tell me how to report in five minutes?  
CNN, traditional broadcasters, and J-students like myself who spent a fortune on the prestigious journalism degree may be initially scared and angry at Youtube for giving amateur journalists a training ground and a distribution platform.  
However, I believe this to be the wrong approach to Youtube's invention.  
As traditional journalists, let's embrace Youtube and view it as an American Idol for journalists - Journalism Idol maybe?  Being a citizen journalist on Youtube isn't the traditional path into the broadcast business; but American Idol isn't the traditional path into the music business, and few people find American Idol threatening to the traditional music model.  
So, let's view Youtube's experiment, its Reporters Center, as a positive invention, as a breeding ground to discovering the undiscovered reporting talent, instead of a threat to the traditional news business.  I like American Idol, so I've decided to like Youtube's Reporters' Center.  

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