Democracy is a great thing...unless you are a Journalist in 2009.
To a Journalist, more Democracy just means there are hunters out there in the news jungle with guns that are just as good as theirs. Democracy means that someone can use new technologies to produce a quick catchy story and produce it for free. Democracy means that instead of whispering stories for the public to hear, you will have to shout them over the cacophony of the millions of other voices yelling for attention. To the 21st Century Journalist, Democracy sucks.
The Internet has revolutionized the way we communicate (duh.) No longer do citizens have to sit idly by and wait for the fedora wearing men with 5 o'clock shadows and press passes to break stories. Any citizen with an Internet provider and a dream can log onto the World Wide Web and broke any story they'd like themselves. I primarily maintain this little blog of mine for analysis of media coverage, world events and Western culture but if I looked out my window and saw metal tyrannosaurus rexes with lasers for eyes terrorizing my neighborhood then you should damn well know that the headline of The Collective(ly) Unconscious would read "Metal Tyrannosaurus Rexes with Lasers for Eyes Terrorize Northeast Ohio Neighborhood" that day.
The point is: I would not call The Plain Dealer, The Akron Beacon Journal, CNN, or Barack Obama (I have homeboy on speed-dial). I would simply publish my own story thanks to this magical tool known as the Internet. The information is free and it is there for the taking and there for the publishing. I have been born into an entire generation of human beings who are not only accustomed to fast, cheap and nearly unlimited information but are also accustomed to the idea that they OWN the information. We are Generation Wiki: the generation does not let any good information go to waste.
So how does the crucial American institution of Journalism combat and keep up with with Generation Wiki. This is usually the part where the Journalism "expert" tosses out powerful phrases like "innovation" or "stream-lining" or "market researching." But those phrases bore me and are a wildly inaccurate solution to the problem. The only solution to the Generation Wiki menace from a Journalistic standpoint is: quality.
Just be better.
Democracy is a pain for Journalism right now because the model has been so skewed in the favor of the printing press for so long. Now it is time to show why Journalists collect paychecks and hack bloggers such as myself work for wage labor at an indoor baseball facility. Journalists (hopefully) represent the ultimate in training, experience and natural talent in their field. They are the best researchers, writers and investigators that money can buy. As I've said before, the information is out there for the taking and if a professional wit ha considerable grasp of the English language gets a hold of that information, then that information can be refined into something more than the some of its parts, it can be crafted into a story.
Compiling and reporting is fun and dandy for us lay-people on the ground. But at a certain point that information must be compiled into a readable and perhaps even entertaining medium for mass consumption. Plus, that whole business with the grammar and the style guides and the rules of rhetoric is just a plain ol' pain in the butt. If we can pay a professional to polish off the information out there with words and present us a viewpoint of the world through fair, yet stylistic lenses, then why the produce the news ourselves? People have paid for the news for centuries and now even as the news becomes cheaper and free, people will still pay for news...as long as it is presented in good fashion.
Don't believe me? Check out the interesting little social experiment going on over at Spot.us. Spot.us is a website that is engineering the idea of Community Funded Reporting. It puts the Journalist and the Reader into direct contact with each other so that their communication can yield the result of a news story. Reporters pitch story ideas to readers, who then decide whether they would like to make a donation for that story to be researched and written, then the Journalist uses those funds to write that story. It is an ingeiously simple concept and it answers the question: "will readers pay to read news stories?" The answer is a resounding "yes", as long as the story is of consequence and well-written.
I know my answer of "be better" is frustrating and overly simplified. And the message is probably hypocritical from a teenager who has never worked in a newsroom and therefore does not know how hard reporters are working. But unfortunately, I believe that "better quality" is the only solution any one can offer now. The mass media business is the Wild West right now and if you want to survive you simply have to be the best. If you are the best at what you do then the competition just doesn't stand a chance, regardless of whether they see metal tyrannosaurus rexes with lasers for eyes or not.
Take that, Generation Wiki.