#VOJ10: What’s the value of journalism? A debate

flickr: boris_licina

Latest in a discussion with Freelance Unbound

I agree that demonising people for producing content, or even clinging to the belief that people can somehow be ‘stopped’ from producing content if they don’t have some vaguely specified seal of approval from self-defined ‘professionals’, is futile. And wrong. But I think being a journalist is about more than simply managing, understanding and filtering information. That sounds like librarianship – something which actually is a profession and which is perfectly sound in its own right.

So when you ask “What can journalism do when the people who need the stories can tell them too?” I’d answer “tell them better”. There is, without wanting to appear too high-falutin, a craft to writing, a way of pacing a piece, involving a reader and bringing out the detail that others overlook. There’s also a craft to being able to interview, or to pursuing an angle and winkling out stuff that others haven’t found.

Those things are picked up over time, with experience, and there is a danger that we rubbish these perfectly legitimate craft skills when we argue – as we must – against the closed guild approach. Unfortunately, defending skill was something cast as elitist by the phoney egalitarians of the previous government, and it’s going to take some time to shake that.

I don’t think the fact that the trade has churned out “unmitigated crap” means that no one from within the trade can put forward an argument for standards – I think you are too defensive over this.

Journalists can also chose to put themselves in positions and take risks that ‘everyman’ can’t, sometimes because of personal circumstance or sometime because they work for a big organisation. Remember why the expenses scandal leak went to the traditional media.

I suppose what I am trying to say is that I can put in a good turn at the local amateur dramatic society, or do a decent job at fixing stuff around the house. (Although if my wife is reading this she may disagree). But I’m not an actor or a builder, because they have developed an expertise I haven’t got. I may be able to develop it, but that takes time and experience.

So while we should not, cannot, prevent people from producing content, we should not fall into the trap of disregarding the accumulated knowledge of the trade. That’s not shoring up the old model, it’s defending skill. What we need to focus on here is a sharper definition of those skills.

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