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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Monday, December 04, 2006

I have seen the future...

... and it's scary.

I received traditional journalism training and I continue to watch where my former profession is going. It certainly has come a long way from the days of typewriters and carbon paper and compositors creating words from slabs of lead.

I'm not overly alarmed by the transition from dead trees to electrons -- though I do wish the major conglomerates would stop whining just because their profit margins have fallen below 20 percent as technology shakes things up.

And I'm obviously a fan of "citizen journalism" as I blog away and live the career of opinion columnist that never panned out in the real world.

But this is scary. On the other hand, this has possibilities.

The idea of "mojos'' or mobile journalists is a little redundant. The process of reporting demands mobility. What's changed (for the better) is the technology -- enabling one person to report, write and illustrate a story for print, broadcast and web.

What hasn't changed -- or should not -- is the definition of news. And this Gannett philosophy, as expressed by Fort Myers News-Press managing editor Mackenzie Warren is frightening.
"Whatever you spend your time and money doing is news."
Sorry, but a calendar signing attended by two people who happen upon it by chance is not news. Just because a chamber of commerce holds an event doesn't make it worth noting.

What's more troubling is the teaming of "mojos" and marketers to sell advertising.
As part of their training, mojos get a three-hour session with the paper's vice president of marketing. If someone out in the community complains that ad rates are too high in the daily News-Press, mojos can and should tell them that rates are lower in the paper's community weeklies.

It would be "morally wrong" for a reporter not to pass along such information, said Warren, the managing editor for information distribution, a new position. The paper also has a managing editor for information collection.

"It's like rolling down your window and giving someone directions," Warren said. Keeping reporters away from the business side is "old-school snobbery," he said.

No it's not. It is ethically wrong and incredibly damaging to the reputation of a profession that is already seen as more concerned about money and power than truth. You don't actually give people the ammunition to say "All they care about is selling papers."

On the other hand, enlisting "reader experts" to review documents or data or relying on citizens to provide on-the-spot still and video images has a good feel to it -- as long the editors trained to decide what's newsworthy and what's advertising fluff --- don't give up their responsibilities.

Thankfully, there appears to be a greater level of professionalism among folks with their fingers in this pie, like Steve Rosenbaum, who created MTV Unfiltered and now runs Magnify Media, which helps Web sites post video contributions:
“If you are asking your audience to know what is a national news story of interest to the world, it seems to me there are only two results: whether you get flooded with lots of car fires, or you get nothing. Neither is a particularly good effect.”
There's a difference between Reuters and America's Funniest Home Videos and YouTube. The experiment in citizen participation has promise as long as "managing editors of information and information distribution" are among those who know the difference.

The example from Fort Meyers suggest there's still a lot of work to do in that area.

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