How many manifestos does it take to change journalism?

Interesting that Alison Gow’s response that the fundamental problem with the Internet Manifesto is that it’s published on the Internet. She argues that the people it’s aimed at – the internet deniers – won’t read it. But then she says this on, er, the internet.

The truth of the matter is that journalists are probably using the internet all of the time – to find breaking stories, for fact checking, for cross-referencing and to see what other journalists are saying. It’s not the internet per se, that is worrying the old school journalists, it’s the very real fear that it might take their jobs away. It is this fear that probably drives journalists into corners to defend their position, rather to than to take a wider view of the opportunities that the internet offers them as professional mediators/interpreters/deliverers of the news.

Bloggers offer a valuable perspective –sometimes a sideways glance at how the news can be read, which must surely be good for journalism as it offers multiple perspectives. The trick for journalists, to use the well-worn analogy, is to see this as part of a tool kit for delivering stories in a way that will resonate with a reading public, which extends beyond the traditional geographical reach of most of the print and broadcast media. However….

The way that the internet offers up news is quite a different kettle of fish from the more traditional methods. It is consumed by consumers rather than digested by an audience or readership. For that reason the way that news can be delivered on the internet will be geared to the scan and skim habits of its users. It is also worth bearing in mind that, in the rapid scramble to break a story first, there is a greater risk of inaccuracies. This can pose real problems as there is a danger that scanned misinformation will be subliminally stored by a user who is flitting from site to site and link to link. However many balancing corrections are posted afterwards the original information will still be stored away and the chances of seeing the correction are reduced by those very flitting habits – who wants to read a correction piece, when there’s another hot topic to peruse?

This is where the print and broadcast media win out – generally news in these areas is consumed by a readership/audience who define themselves by their allegiance to a particular paper or news channel. Anything that goes wrong can be corrected with a reasonable chance of hitting the original recipients.

By all means let’s have a manifesto, but let’s make it more of a code of practice that allows for fair reporting and expects the responding public to play by a similar code of fair play.

It will be interesting to see how the pay walls operate, but I would hope that journalists providing the news behind those pay walls are allowed to operate as they would in the more traditional media. They should be properly resourced to research new news, not to grab whatever’s coming off the wire or out of the blog- or twitterspheres in an attempt to be first with the story to drive more paying consumers to the site.

Finally, I think there’s been an interesting response to the Internet manifesto and I am watching with interest how Englemed’s draft manifesto for e-journalism will shape up but it’s definitely a step in the right direction.


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