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Overholser: Journalism As We Know It Is Over

In the first sentence of Geneva Overholser’s On Behalf of Journalism: A Manifesto For Change she writes:

Journalism as we know it is over.

This week at the Huffington Post she fairly begs for citizen help, but read my italicized sentence to understand why she and the mainstream media folks are adrift:

Please meet me there, oh fellow citizen of this unsettling time, at my immodestly named Manifesto, and check out those Action Steps. Typical of us legacy-media types, we haven’t quite gotten our site interactive yet, but we will, very soon. We’ll be posting progress along these various paths. We’ll need your views on the action steps we’ve thought of, and your suggestions for others. I hope you’ll join us.

Geneva, the problem isn’t that the legacy-media types haven’t quite gotten their site interactive yet, but that they have not gotten their minds interactive yet. And I am afraid your manifesto is in some ways clueless.

Yes, it does a good job at defining the woes as in this sentence:

Don Hewitt, until recently of 60 Minutes, has said that when he got into the business as a young producer, the ethic was “Make us proud.” Today, it’s “Make us money.”

To me the problem with the manifesto is that it grew out of a gathering of the bishops of the high church of journalism with a couple of dissidents like Jay Rosen and Jeff Jarvis, but mostly it was the elite, saying things like “journalists need to reinvent their social contract with the public.”

But then in its 50 or so action steps under the Role of Public, it lists these five bullet points:

  • pressure colleges to require civics education

  • push for more courses in news literacy, First Amendment

  • support news media in schools

  • expand Sunshine Week activities, move from annual to greater frequency

  • create and distribute field guides for news consumers

As I said clueless. Look at them. They are all top down, dictates from bishops using words like: pressure, push, support, expand, create, distribute. Here is an insight I posted earlier this week from blogger Glenn Reynolds:

the secret to getting ahead in the 21st century is capitalizing on people doing what they want to do, rather than trying to get them to do what you want to do.

I have just started reading a MacArthur Foundation report that addresses participatory culture in education. Every K-12 educator should read it, but for our purposes and for Geneva’s read this from The Future of Independent Media as excerpted in the report:

The media landscape will be reshaped by the bottom-up energy of media created by amateurs and hobbyists as a matter of course.This bottom up energy will generate enormous creativity, but it will also tear apart some of the categories that organize the lives and work of media makers…A new generation of media-makers and viewers are emerging which could lead to a sea change in how media is made and consumed.

I don’t want to finish by just being critical. That’s too easy. I want to provide a suggestion. The LA Times has sent a team of reporters to investigate the changing media landscape. A good idea. Here is another. Kick a group of journalists out of the newsroom and tell them to get 100 percent active in the participatory culture. Join, write for Wikipedia, hang out in MySpace and Facebook, get an avatar at Second Life, sell stuff at eBay and make videos for YouTube. Do it all with passion, not as a dispassionate observer. Then come back to the newsroom and figure out how being a member of that participatory culture relates to you as a journalist, or using the words of the Newspaper Next folks, as an information provider.

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One Response to “Overholser: Journalism As We Know It Is Over”

  1. tish grier Says:


    I read Overholser’s “manifesto” also and bothered by the top-down tone of it all. My comment on HufPo noted that it’s going to take a lot more than what she proposed.

    To add something to what you suggest: kick a group of journalists out of the newsroom and bring in a bunch of folks who know how to interact and what interaction is. Give them a small amount of money to take a Journalism 101 class at whatever State U if y’all believe it’s so important, then pay them a fair wage, and let them bring the newsroom up to date.

    Don’t keep looking inside for innovation. Look to those who are already innovating.

    Many of the journalists (and other busnessfolk) can’t get what interaction is because they stopped interacting a long time ago. They are hampered by a worldview that puts them above “people”–where people are only seen as subjects under some skewed “objective” microscope. If one can only interact in the f2f world by projecting some kind of a personna, it’s going to be a lot harder to become adept at it in internet-based spaces and communities.

    There are, however, some of us who can manipulate both spaces. Bring us in and let us be the leaders.

    Oh, but that’s probably asking way too much…