The deconstructed journalist

(this post reflects what I told during my presentation at the neojournalism2012 conference in Brussels, Belgium).
I remember it vividly. That particular day during the never-ending euro crisis I was covering a European Summit. My newspaper colleague was attending briefings, I was at the newsroom, monitoring about 300 people we follow on Twitter regarding the crisis. I talked to some colleagues from other European newspapers, wire services, blogs and television stations, via Twitter. Some of them where at that same summit, covering the same of other briefings. I told my colleague to contact some of my Twitter contacts, while getting a word by word translation of some statements in Italian and in Greek via other tweeting journos.

the Hootsuite social media dashboard

the Hootsuite social media dashboard

During that day I fully realized that the newsroom was no longer the newsroom, the audience no longer the audience, journalists no longer journalists. My newsroom was transformed and expanded. All of a sudden there were hundreds of us, at the summit, and at other ‘crucial meetings’ in Athens, Milan, Berlin, Paris… I tried to DJ all those sources into a liveblog on our site, and the people formerly known as the audience reacted, suggested new angles, referred to other sources.

Among those analyzing the events were fellow-journalists, but also economists working for banks or universities, traders in the City and on Wall Street or in Milan. It was often very difficult to see who was a journalist by profession and who was not. It did not seem to matter that very much.

Of course, the liveblog was like a stream, not like some finished, polished product. It was the reflection and part of the newsgathering process.

Sometimes I use the Twitter-site to monitor all those euro-sources, sometimes Hootsuite (a social media dashboard) or I use Flipboard on my iPad – converting the streams into a kind of glossy-looking online magazine. I use Flipboard also for other beats which interest me, but what is important to note: even though it looks like a magazine, there is no editorial staff deciding for me what I should read. It’s my selection of sources, and they come from many different media – in fact, in most cases, they are just individuals. I do not care what some newspaper or television station thinks about an important issue, but what a particular person at that organization thinks about it.

In the meantime, we are still very much involved in selling newspapers – in print, or digitally. It’s the old music industry situation: remember when you wanted to buy only one or two songs, but you had to buy the whole CD? Maybe the community wants to get the whole package about business, politics, markets and culture, but then again maybe many people would prefer just reading about one ‘beat’ or following only a few journalists. I’m pretty much convinced that we’re going through the same transformation as the music industry.

I don’t have an immediate answer in terms of a sustainable business model for the atomization of news and information. What we do at our newspaper is taking the community serious. That’s why we have liveblogs – we publish almost in real-time the raw material we see such as tweets, articles, videos, adding context and adding parts of the discussions we have. It’s a way of showing ‘the making of’, the process of news gathering, as it happens.

The liveblogs and blogs eventually lead to articles and videos, but we experiment with other forms of story-telling which of course use rich media but also have various possible entry-points. Stories do not have to be linear (my colleagues Nicolas Becquet uses Klynt for building his interactive stories). Another colleague, Raphael Cockx, uses data journalism allowing our community to analyze how their towns and villages compare, using data about income, unemployment, number of companies, growth and crime.

And of course we have long conversations with our community. I host a daily chat session and we experiment with Google Hangout On Air. It’s very different from the usual asynchronous comments on a news site – the real time interactivity facilitates more civilized, constructive conversations which teach us a lot about what people are looking for on our site.

So why deconstructon? We’re not talking about the destruction of journalism. We deconstruct it to obtain better journalism. In general, deconstruction means the questioning of boundaries, which often seem clear-cut but in reality are not (or should no longer be). The boundaries between journalists and other professions, between what is inside and what is outside the newsroom, between the journalists and the people formerly known as the audience are becoming subjects of negotiation. Not everything we discuss at the newsroom should be published in real-time, but there is a lot which can only benefit from being out there in the open.

My slides:

See previous posts for other news about the neojournalist conference:
– How the truth unfolds itself – Hermida about new media

– Journalists would be more cheerful being DJs
– The many meanings of neo-journalism
– A Storify report about the conference by my colleague Nicolas Becquet (French and English)

How the truth unfolds itself – Hermida about new media

So, is new media a revolution, changing society in a fundamental way, or is it a slow, very gradual process? That’s one of the many questions I have after having attended the neo-journalism conference in Brussels, Belgium.
Yesterday professor Alfred Hermida (University of British Columbia) gave his vision on The Ambient News Network. Think of Twitter as millions of voices worldwide, who are constantly talking about what they consider as being remarkable or meaningful. It’s like ambient music, and when all of a sudden the rhythm changes, we become very actively aware of that ‘music’ – probably something major unfolding somewhere.
It’s not just about Twitter though. It’s about a cultural shift. While the industrial world was linear, monolithic, hierarchical, with clearly defined borders and closures, the post-industrial world is non-linear, horizontal, open, ever-changing, so Hermida explained.
Newsrooms often are industrial: they specialize in producing finished products. Think neat articles or videos, professionally crafted, existing on their own, being published in a printed newspapers or homepages trying to be yet another perfectly finished product – even of it’s only for a day or for a few minutes.
Compare this to Twitter and to live blogging. It’s a never-ending river of updates, it’s always provisional, rough around the edges, with many voices blending in while final agreement among those voices is an illusion. Blogging/journalism is not a product, it’s a process.
Hermida said something very beautiful:

Liveblogs are the unfolding truth.

Liveblogs are fluid, open, dynamic, not stable. Through the many voices, the decentered but somehow recognizable style of the livebloggers/ DJs, there is something we could call a truth which makes itself being felt. (An idea which reminds me somehow of Walter Benjamin, but do not fear, I’ll explore that in some other post).
Then again there was a presentation by Anders Olof Larsson (Uppsala University, Sweden) about the use of Twitter for a talk show. He showed how the Twitter-traffic spiked during the airtime of the show, how the host was indeed engaging in rapid Q&A-like interactions with people on Twitter. Some of those people were more visible than others – it appeared those people had a professional background which made them more inclined to use Twitter intensively.
‘Culture changes slowly’, Anders Olof Larsson told me afterwards. Political tensions in countries often are fueled by issues which opposed people generations ago. Hermida, in his presentation, also pointed out that even though learning the technicalities of Twitter was not a big challenge for most journalists, the transition from an industrial to a post-industrial mindset was far more difficult. What we talk about here are new literacies, and acquiring those is not self-evident.
During the discussions it was also pointed out that Twitter is evolving from network which is famous for enhancing worldwide conversations into what it actually was all the time: a privately owned company with its own objectives. That is not different from most media companies and conglomerates of course. But at the same time there are a number of challenges regarding technologies and literacies: how can we help people to navigate the endless streams of liveblog-updates, tweets or other streaming media? We should keep as much possibilities open as possible to suggest our own solutions for these issues – it should not be something to be dealt with exclusively by the Twitter- or Facebook-coders, Hermida pointed out.

The audio-recording of Hermida’s keynote is available on his website,

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.