Tuesday, August 3

Going Social: Goodbye Citizen Journalist, Hello Journalist Citizen


Forbes isn't the first to flip the switch, but it is one of the most interesting and sure to get attention. Starting today, according to the Business Insider, every reporter will now be required to have his or her own blog. They won't be alone either.

"Moving forward, when I look at an operation like Forbes, I look at a mixture of a full-time staff base and hundreds and hundreds, if not thousands, of freelance contributors," Lewis D'Vorkin had previously said. "It's a blend."

It makes sense, sort of. For the last several years we've seen the resurrection of the citizen journalist. And for the next couple of years, we might see the rise of the journalist citizen.

What Will The Journalist Citizen Be?

In April, Ike Pigott explored the possibly of organizationally embedded journalists. But journalist citizens might be decidedly different. They won't be embedded in organizations. They'll be embedded in our social networks and, perhaps, actively participating, promoting, sharing, and investigating story leads.

They already are, you know. Early last year, we worked on a brief for several major publishers to do exactly that. It was the first phase of what might later become the journalist citizen. Specifically, they wanted to know how to tap into stories that people in social media find interesting and then give those stories a spin, upgrading those ideas with access to better, harder-to-reach sources.

The next phase is closer to what Forbes is proposing to do (but they were not one of the publishers who received the brief). Journalists will actively participate and promote the stories they create (or each other's stories maybe). They'll have to.

Although most emigrating print publishers are standing firm that reporters will be subjected to eyeball quotas (a standard practice among broadcasters), one wonders if there will be a certain amount of pressure upon the participating press to build their own "tribes" around the subjects they cover. Or perhaps, they'll discover, there are no "tribes."

Online participants are very much as free as ever. Long before anyone called them tribes, we called them nomads, whom marketers and media hope to capture as they wander their way to watering holes for individual conversations, family gossip, fun, and games.

Perhaps more disturbing than journalists splitting their time between investigative work, objective journalism, social networking, story promoting, and defending whatever it is they lend to a topic, will be the increasing loss of objectivity as they serve to cater to what some might call temporary tribes (even if there aren't tribes).

I cannot stress temporary enough. You see, unlike real tribes, they move on if you write about the same thing too much or too many different things. It makes sense that marketers would attempt this balancing act. They wear the agenda on their sleeves, and its name is sales no matter how many relationships or niceties they offer up. There is nothing wrong with that.

But the media? If the agenda isn't to tell us what we need to know whether we want to hear it or not, then what is it?

Don't get me wrong. I think the move by Forbes is the direction that communication is moving. But what strikes me is that if newspapers and magazines have finally surrendered to social media, what valued proposition will they bring to the table, especially if they support a platform that allows hundreds and hundreds of freelancers to submit stories that compete with their staff? And, equally interesting, what will the value proposition be for them?

After all, there is always reality. Reality suggests that if newspapers and magazines recognized that being relevant online was more difficult because it forced them to compete with television and radio news in the same space, imagine what it might mean if they have have to compete on a daily basis with blogs too.

It seems to me that things will be getting messy. Imagine consumers being asked to choose from the people in the field who have blogs (experts), journalists who have blogs (professionals), citizens who have blogs (casual observers with sometimes very good ideas), and, well, public relations pros with blogs. Huh. I'm okay with that. It's stranger than fiction. How about you?

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