Give Me Just One Knight To Believe In
Last night, Jackson and I drove down to Stanford University to watch five of this year’s twenty Knight fellows—journalists funded by the Knight Foundation to improve the quality of news and information reaching the public—present their projects. It was Demo Night. The room was packed with a bevy of journalists and academics and hungry entrepreneurs, and we were expecting the best. What we got in return was indeed novel but, in my opinion, not necessarily Jackson’s, did little to enhance the quality of tomorrow’s journalism.
The fellows confronted the hardest question facing the press today: how best to further people’s understanding of the world given the waning power of newsrooms and the rise of social media. That’s a mighty circle to square. But their approaches were often unsettling and, at times, fatalistic.
Instead of directly addressing the vagaries and budget problems the media world faces, the fellows seemed to be transferring the responsibility of reporting to the general public, using social media to crowd-source news stories. The demos were—quite literally—the cheapening of the journalistic process.
Citizen journalism has its place in new media but should not be conflated with investigative journalism. The “witness it, record it, tag it” approach to new media leaves professionalism and analysis at the landing page of some of the Knight fellows’ websites.
The Knight fellows are correct in that news shouldn’t be created in a vacuum. That is to say, the voice of witnesses is all too often silenced by large, corporate news agencies. But to suggest that public chatter replace what newsrooms have lost is a backwards pursuit. If we want to enrich the public record, preserving and increasing curatorial and professional-grade reporting needs to be the focus of new media.
We already have healthy nodes of collaboration that connect the public to reporters, just look at Nicholas D. Kristof’s Facebook page. What media lacks is the money to fund people like Kristof or, in the case of Once, photojournalists. We aim to change that.
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