The profession of journalism, Part One: Authenticity and Social Media

This wasn't going to be the first in this series, but  that posJason Pontin got my juices flowing in his column today on authentic communication, or lack of it, in social media. He writes:

"Social-media Jason Pontin, in short, is a function of my business life. I know that this identity is inauthentic, because there is so much about which I do not post or blog. Do other habitual users of social media, whose social identities are as carefully constructed to attract attention, but who blog and post about everything (and thus feel no alienation), not know that those identities are inauthentic? Bemused by the difference between themselves and their social-media selves, are they mere Copies, cast from a few popular molds, endlessly reproduced among false friends?"

Yes, that may be true, but then it was also true of the print-media Jason and the web-media Jason.  It's also true of the trade show Jason, the featured speaker Jason, the father Jason, the husband Jason, etc.  Every social interaction can be seen as inauthentic when separated from al the facets of out lives.

There's a book you've probably never heard of by Brett Johnson called "Convergence"  that posits that working for balance in life is a fruitless effort because it can't happen.  He says that all the aspects of our lives-- work, play, family, faith -- only become productive when we allow them to converge as what we call life.  Sometimes work needs additional emphasis, sometimes family, sometimes play and sometimes faith... all of it comes together in what we call life and when everything is working in harmony, we call it balance.

But what has happened to society is a media world that makes us think we are islands apart.  We subscribe to different magazines, attend different churches, participate in different social groups, adhere to political positions all designed to convince us that "we" are right and "they" are wrong.

Jason is right that we can create a persona on social media that makes us seem different that we really are, or even how we see ourselves.  But it can also give us a chance to see what others may think of us and possibly shed some light on what we may not realize about ourselves.

I've state for some time that I see the Internet not as a unifying force, but one that is dividing us into armed camps because we can read and see only what we want to see and read, which makes us closed to growth and society.  Social media can do that too, but unlike the world of Google and Yahoo, it can also open the potential for learning that we don't know it all.

Historically, when we lived in vlllages before technology, everyone knew who you were, warts and all.  As societies expanded, so did personal isolation and the belief that we could have private lives -- and even valuing that privacy.  As the village society died, it was replaced by city states, then nation states.  Privacy was easier to attain, but so was power.  Keeping people ignorant is crucial to creating wars and keeping people private makes it easier to keep them ignorant.

So when I read Jason's stuff, I know I've found a man who knows something about social media and technology and I find it valuable because I trust his knowledge.  That is an authentic relationship as far as that goes and I discovered that relationship through the various forms of social media, in this case Facebook.  My knowledge of technology and where Jason fits in that knowledge has expanded.  That's not a bad thing.

So how does that fit into the profession of journalism?  For journalism to be effective, the reader has to have some level of trust in the journalist or publication.  The trust that journalists enjoyed from the 1950s to the 1980s has eroded significantly, and more so as traditional media has contracted through financial difficulties.  The paradigm of fiscal support, advertising, is not going to support journalists in the near or foreseeable future, but we still need effective communicators that we trust in the media of choice.  Social media provides the means to create trusted sources of information again.  And as that trust grows for journalists seen as authentic, their value can grow as well.  Value transfers to worth and worth transfers to money.  We're not there yet, but in the very near future, journalists will be paid according to their following, just as publications received advertising revenue according to their readership.  That's the first step.