What is journalism?

Dharmishta Rood started a thread on Seesmic for a class at Harvard on the 9th of March asking, “What is the future of news?” I don’t feel as though my two minute response conveys everything I’d like it to, and want to clarify a few of the ideas.

The future of news isn’t newspapers. The newspaper is an inefficient, uneconomic, and environmentally-troubling method of moving data. In my opinion, Steve Rhodes laid out an epic laundry list of everything that’s broken in the newspaper industry a few days ago. There isn’t any need to repeat that, thanks to the internet. The key takeaway is that, instead of trying to figure out how to financially support newspaper-style journalism on the web, we should be active in conversation about what journalism is, and how the internet will enable us to do it better.

To me, journalism is the act of providing impartial, accurate information to empower a community to make decisions. I had “independent” in the definition earlier, but I don’t believe that independence is entirely necessary if you partake in the art of full disclosure. The process of journalism need not be limited to newspapers, and the format need not be tied to an article measured in column inches. As Suzanne Yada rightfully noted just over a month ago, “Twitter isn’t journalism, just like television isn’t journalism, but you can find journalism ON Twitter and ON television.” Our information needs have changed from a hundred years ago, and the internet lends news organizations greater ability to fulfill this responsibility.

Two premises for the near future (that you’re welcome to dispute):

  • Newspaper journalism operated in the era of information scarcity, where “what is news” was determined by the amount of space available in the delivery mechanism. Online journalism operates in the era of information as a commodity. This means that “what is news” is defined by the quality of information.
  • We’re also now in an indefinite era of format fragmentation, meaning that journalism can be implemented in a myriad of different ways. This is another paradigm shift from the newspaper age, but not for the worse: the internet allows us to do more with information. The internet is ultimately a more powerful platform for journalism because users can be exposed to information automatically based on context and the depth of information they need.

The “Future of News” is going to be a competition to see who can create the most innovative and engaging ways to deliver information which empowers communities to make decisions.