November 12th, 2008 | Published in Core theory
In my last post I quoted McLuhan’s description of how, after a period of numbness, the emergence of a new media leads to the eventual creation of new forms. For example, the printing press led to new forms such as the novel or the newspaper. The quote is worth repeating because catches the significance of such transitions:
The hybrid or the meeting of two media is a moment of truth and revelation from which new form is born. For the parallel between two media holds us on the frontiers between forms that snap us out of the Narcissus-narcosis. The moment of the meeting of media is a moment of freedom and release from the ordinary trance and numbness imposed by them on our senses. (Understanding Media McGraw Hill p55)
A very good sign that such a moment is occurring happens when established institutions – that is, insiders – begin to engage the new reality effectively. During the period of numbness people within the established institutions normally try to hang onto the old structure and deny the new one. As Jeff Jarvis put it, journalists “did not see and exploit — hell, we resisted (my emphasis) — all the opportunities new media and new relationships with the public presented.” But eventually, there is the “Moment of truth and revelation from which new form is born”. The example I want to call attention to today comes from inside the established media institutions. NYU Journalism professor Jay Rosen started an initiative, he calls it Beatblogging, about a year ago to help working journalists use the new social media such as Twitter in their work. The name itself is a combination of old and new – the old reporters ‘beat’ combined with the Internet phenomena of ‘blogging’. This is the ‘About’ page from the Beatblogging website:
Beatblogging.org is a project of NewAssignment.Net that examines how journalists can use social networks and other Web tools to improve beat reporting.
Every day we highlight innovative beat reporters on our nominees list. The best of the nominees make our weekly Leaderboard.
We look at the latest trends and how they can help journalists and journalism. We find real-world examples of social media helping journalists improve their beat reporting.
We also have podcasts where we interview journalists who are pushing the practice. We ask them what works and what doesn’t. We are always trying to figure out what is the return on investment for investing time in social media.
Patrick Thornton is the editor and lead writer of BeatBlogging.Org. He also runs the popular journalism blog, The Journalism Iconoclast. BeatBlogging.Org is the brainchild of NYU’s PressThinker Jay Rosen.
One aspect of Beatblogging that is not entirely obvious from the above description is that the use of social software creates a two way interaction between journalist and audience. Instead of trying to preserve the ‘few to many’ power structure created by the old printing press or broadcast technology, Beatblogging exploits the ‘many to many’ nature of the Web to serve the ongoing and entirely necessary process of bringing people the news. This initiative involves exactly those opportunities presented by the new media environment that Jeff Jarvis was speaking about. Rather than rail against the new structure, Beatblogging sets out to employ social networking software to change journalists’ relationship to their public and moreover takes advantage of the networked nature of the Web to enable journalists to help each other learn the new skills involved. It is not just good journalism, it is also good education. Jay Rosen, whose main blog is PressThink, is constantly on top of the relationship between established Journalism and the Blogosphere. His latest post If Bloggers Had No Ethics Blogging Would Have Failed, But it Didn’t. So Let’s Get a Clue does not disappoint. A sample:
There are now closed and open editorial systems: they are different animals.
They don’t work the same way, or produce the same goods. One does not replace the other. They are not enemies, either. Ideas that work perfectly well in one—and describe the world in that setting—may not work in understanding the other: they misdescribe the world in a shifted setting.
Because we have the Web…
There’s the press, but there is also the press sphere, an open system.
Within the press we find the people we know as “professional” journalists.
Within the press sphere we find pro journalists and the people formerly known as the audience, mixed together.
As a former academic (and a member of the audience) I am delighted to see a Journalism professor being a real leader in helping his profession deal with the changed media environment. The current economic crisis is accelerating the changes journalists face. Since my last post, The Christian Science Monitor has stopped its printed edition and gone on line. Beatblogging covered it here. War and depression drive out old ways of doing things and accelerate the pace of change. Both 9/11 and the current economic turmoil are interacting with McLuhan’s ‘moment of truth and revelation’. What we have recently begun referring to as ‘the cloud’ is in great turmoil, but thanks to McLuhan and academics like Jay Rosen we have a clue to what is happening to us. In my next post I intend to look at how a successful independent journalist Michael Yon – someone from outside the established media institutions – sees the opportunities created in this environment.