Wanted: New Behaviour in Journalism

Vandaag verschenen: het maandblad Ideas van de INMA. Met daarin een bijdrage van mij over journalistiek gedrag. Hieronder de tekst.

ideasmagazineNew tools and platforms are more important than ever. Killer-apps are changing the game. Tablets are hot. ICT is helping us all getting somewhere we have never been.

Yes, good old journalism has every chance to move on – and take its place in new markets. Just seizing the opportunities would greatly help legacy media companies get well again. It’s much needed, because the places where, traditionally, quality journalism was performed and turned into a good business, have had a hard time staying healthy, let alone alive.

Unfortunately, the road to recovery may seem clear, but is not at all secure. In fact, nothing moves before the performer’s attitude has been changed.

Behaviour in journalism now is a bigger obstacle than anything else in the struggle to regain media power. Take a quick look at the traditional journalist:

  • He (yes, it’s a male) always operates independently and objectively,
  • has skills that no one else will ever have,
  • is therefore part of a special class of people,
  • wants to make mass media,
  • knows his own hobbies to be those of his audience,
  • is almost infallible,
  • uses his private address book as a passport to anywhere,
  • is sure to be the only reliable source for relevant information,
  • doesn’t need to think about the commercial part of the business,
  • hates the non-editorial parts of his company for complicating his job,
  • detests everything digital, systematized or automated,
  • cherishes the company castle from which he can perform his important job without being disturbed by strangers from outside,
  • and takes his time to finish a story.

Those were the days. This behaviour was right at a time, but the internet has not only changed the rules, it has changed the whole game. Truth is still to be discovered, interpretation is still needed. But the journalist no longer has a monopoly on information or knowledge, nor on the production and distribution of it. Every single citizen is capable of finding facts and everybody can be a publisher.

Professional journalists still have lots of skills that distinguish them. But if they want to keep playing a significant role (or regain it), their behaviour will have to change. They will have to mix their own qualities with those of the new players that have been popping up in the media business the last ten years or so. They should accept the fact that new enterprises, working without the strict editorial rules media companies have been following for the past century, can also attract audiences, advertisers, money. And realise that the successes from the past can be a real burden.

Journalists should stop wasting time on internal fights, but get out, be open, communicate, mutualise with their audience. Collaborate, even with competitors, get personal ánd social, always publish real time (knowing you can’t be wrong for long). Don’t act special but be involved, tap the audience and curate what it brings in. Act entrepreneurial. And be aware that there is always someone who knows more: a story is never finished.

It’s not easy, but it is certainly more fun. And, if performed well, rewarding too. Which is exactly why media owners and executives should do everything in their power to help their editorial staff make this change. Help them by turning the old ivory towered media castles into open marketplaces. By inviting social media experts into your boardrooms – not once but permanently. By not only stressing your former successes and high traditional standards, but also the need for change. And by acknowledging that you lost maybe half of your basis already – to crazy new kids like Google, Facebook and Twitter. In fact, simply by setting the behavioural examples and rewarding your staff for their new attitude.