Journalists would be more cheerful being DJs

Mark Deuze is a charming person, but his message to journalists is not exactly ego-boosting: don’t take yourself too seriously, he told us during the neo-journalism conference in Brussels, Belgium. Deuze has been an Associate Professor at the Indiana University’s Department of Telecommunications in Bloomington (United States) since 2006. Until 2011 he also held a joint appointment as Professor of Journalism and New Media at Leiden University (The Netherlands).

Not that the journalism-function is unimportant. Throughout history that function was about warning for danger, about who was in charge and what that means, and about societal norms. As the mass-media emerged during the previous century, the need for public executions seemed to diminish – the message about norms and behavior could be spread by those mass-media – I guess they were considered very newish back then – so barbaric stuff such public execution and torture could be abolished.

But it’s not because the journalist functions are important that the very specific group of people who call themselves ‘journalists’ are that important.

In these days of social networks, smartphones and tablets, media and reporting are ubiquitous. Deuze is not inclined to judge about the quality of all that reporting.

The media artifacts and activities seem to disappear, at least we are no longer very actively aware of those tools – we live in media like fish in water. In that ocean of content journalists should no longer focus exclusively on the creation of new content – because it amounts to no more than to tiny blips.

The message was probably not very rejoicing for the many journalism-students in the audience. Talking about audience, Deuze remarked that ‘the audience no longer behaves like an audience’ (except for conferences, where the old formats are still very much in use).

Deuze observes that journalists don’t seem very cheerful these days. Showing an image of DJ Tiësto, he had an urgent suggestion: journalists should consider themselves as great DJs – being experts in the stuff and sources they collect and mix together.

The many meanings of neo-journalism

I just learned a new concept, ‘neo-journalism’. There’s a conference about the theme in Brussels, Belgium, organized by the University of Louvain (UCL) and the University of Namur (FUNDP). So what is neo-journalism (there is also neo-television. Well, it’s about time – we could talk already about neo-online journalism and neo-blogging)? The conference website explains:

Can we call 21st century journalism neo-journalism? As used in artistic movements, the prefix “neo” has several meanings. First and foremost, it means returning to certain ancient forms and values. When applied to journalism, it would refer to the revival of earlier ways of conceiving and of doing journalism, that is, reinventing an existing topic.

Second, the term neo-journalism implies some criticism of the present, combined with nostalgia for an idealized past. Neo-journalism may thus arise from journalists’ criticisms concerning early experiences of the appropriation of the Internet by news organizations. Their “appropriation techniques” aiming at producing low cost online journalism lead to a standardization of contents on the web and give rise to journalists’ criticism of normative and legal vacuums.

Third, the prefix “neo” means that some characteristics of early movements are retained and reinterpreted in new settings. The focus here is on new tools that may have an impact on how journalism is conceived and carried out online (social networking sites, blogging, micro-blogging, audience measurement software).

Finally, the concept of “neo-journalism” may include a participatory ideal of empowerment: “Like the neo-television which Casetti and Odin have qualified as a space of conviviality, proximity and above all interactivity, the term neo-journalism gathers its strength from its relevance to describe a kind of horizontal communication where traditional walls separating genres and roles played by protagonists disappear (the journalist is no longer the master of the sources)” (Murhula et al. 2008, p. 86). Today, participatory technologies (blogs, micro-blogging, social networks) allow a series of actors scattered throughout places and institutions that do not correspond with the traditional journalistic field to have access to public discourse. We can then ask what distinguishes journalists from citizens, an issue that has serious implications, particularly from a legal point of view.

Hence, if there were a new paradigm, it would be radical only if it took into account ideal – or even utopian – journalistic values, reintegrating into a new framework those values criticized at the present time. The paradigm would have to be conceived as an open space where the recipient takes part in a shared, networked, and interactive verbalization process.

I’ll give a presentation here, along the “empowerment” interpretation and the deconstruction of the boundaries between journalists and the communities they work for.

For those really interested: abstracts are available (pdf). I’ll just mention one for now, about the use of citizen journalism for hyperlocal news production at the Flemish newspaper Het Belang van Limburg, research by Evelien D’HEER (IBBT-MICT – Ghent University) and Steve PAULUSSEN (University Of Antwerp):

The results of our study provide evidence for the added value of user-generated content for hyperlocal news production. Whereas the citizen journalists almost exclusively focus on socio-cultural events and sports news, professional journalists tend to cover more stories related to crime, justice and police. The study also suggests that professionals use a distinct set of news values, emphasizing criteria such as ‘frequency’, ‘recency’ and ‘negativity’ – in comparison, citizen journalists were more likely to judge the newsworthiness of an event in terms of ‘cultural relevance’ and ‘reference to persons’.

Somewhat surprisingly, the log analysis showed that reader appreciation – measured in terms of page views and time spent on the page – seems to be higher for citizen content compared to professional editorial content.