Wisdom and Ignorance, Part 9: The coming golden age of journalism

Over the past few months I've gone over the historical issues that created the free media in the US and now the world, the events and decisions that brought us to where we are today, and made some suggestions about how industry and media should learn to work together. In the process, I've beaten up on some specific industries, gotten involved with arguments from Big Business advocates and seen this blog grow to the point of journalistic legitimacy... whatever that means. It's been a great time.

But in this final segment of the series, I want to turn specifically to my media brethren and make some suggestions about what they should do to help restore the symbiotic relationship between business and media.

This morning I heard that CBS – the Tiffany Network, the organization that defined broadcast news for most of the last century – is outsourcing a large portion of its news gathering to CNN. Once again current events sets the stage for my post.

There are many people that would bemoan this relationship as an indication of the death of the media, while others call it the continuing consolidation. Paul Miller touched on that today by calling for fewer publications, but I'm not sure that's really the point. I think the CBS move is a good one because it shows that media, to be relevant, needs to be cooperative.

The journalism paradigm for more than 200 years has been not only adversarial for its subjects, but to each other. The goal was to create unique content; to scoop competitive news media on information, thereby demonstrating why someone should read your paper or watch or listen your broadcast. The Internet has changed all that. Information, pseudo-information and outright lies are spread almost instantaneously through out the world now. Getting your viewpoint out to the masses is easier than ever. Journalists need to learn that getting out first means nothing. What is more important is getting correct information out, properly vetted and considered. That means it may not come from one journalist, but many.
That's the biggest change media needs to learn. Journalists need to cooperate with each other, regardless of what publication or medium they work for. Media houses need to not only allow that kind of collaboration, then need to encourage it. That means journalists are going to have to become a REAL profession and just not claim it.

I can't count how many times I've heard representatives from every news media company bad mouth the competition, the worst being United Business Media and Reed Business editorial. That can be expected from the business side of those organizations, but it is unprofessional from the journalists. Writers and editors from every form of media should be sharing their information, balancing each other for the purpose of creating considered, thoughtful communication that the audience can trust. Bloggers internal and external to industry, who seek the trust of their audience, should participate in the collaboration to make sure that what they are about to share is accurate, even if it only to a degree.

Part of this can be accomplished by adhering to the principals and ethics established by organizations like PRSA and the Society of Professional Journalists. As I pointed out a few months ago, very few practitioners on either side were even aware those principals exist. And that takes me to my next point.

Communicators who seek to be considered professional need to act like professionals. Any idiot can sign up for a blog on Google. It takes someone with training in communications to make that blog valuable. As much as I appreciate the concepts published by David Scott Meerman one thing he only touches on is that using new media to promote your company doesn't do any good unless you know how to communicate. And there are just not enough trained communicators for every company to have one.

Many companies are retreating behind wall fortresses, pushing employees to establish blogs that speak only to their current customer base. But the efforts are hollow because they don't encourage real discussion. Journalists know how to create interest and uncover bullshit. That's why they need to stay independent.
But media companies need to let their communicators have the freedom to work outside their own fortress and build stories with the help of all their compatriots. It's time for a real "fourth estate" of professionals. This is not the end of journalism as we know it. This could be the golden age.

We'll be back with our regular program of interviews with media players in the next few weeks. Thanks to everyone for their support and encouragement.