Some journalists use social media; some don’t. But all journalists, more or less, are threatened by social media. They are threatened by the immediacy of social media, by the necessity to validate social media, and by the difficulty in interpreting social media. And their bosses are threatened even more — by the ubiquity and popularity of social media and, most all, by the cost of social media: It’s free!
Those journalists and their bosses are not only defensive about Facebook and Twitter. They’re defensive about Google News. They’re really defensive about citizen journalism. And they are really and seriously defensive about Qik and Justin.tv and FriendFeed (if and when they ever find out what those are).
I don’t mind journalists being defensive — that just shows they care are about what they do. I do wish, however, that journalists weren’t so sanctimonious about being defensive.
I fully believe that journalism is an important social function — even a vital social function. The journalist is our watch dog, our alarm bell, our safety net, and, in many cases, our conscience. All those are proper and valuable social functions of journalism, about which it is worthwhile to be passionate, even defensive.
However, what journalists — and, even more so, their bosses — seem most defensive about is not the function of journalism but the status of journalism.
For a long time now, journalists have held a rare and privileged status, from the wedding photographer who gets to stand up and block your view of the ceremony, to the entertainment reporter who gets opening-night front-row seats, to the storm chaser who gets to go around the police blockades and stand in the wind. Journalists get that status because we consider them — pretty much just like they consider themselves — special.
But we consider journalists special because of their function, not their status.
Journalists have developed their own rules about specialness and status. Among journalists, the byline makes the man (or, of course, the woman): the presence and placement of the byline and, most of all, the banner above the byline. Certain banners, for instance — The Laurel Leader Call, The Houma Courier — don’t mean that much. Other banners — The New York Times, The Washington Post — mean everything.
The best bylines are assigned a special status because, in the past, not everyone was allowed one. In the past, where the news came from wasn’t nearly as rare or as restricted or as treasured or as special as where the news came out.
But now, all of sudden, the news comes out everywhere. If someone has a blog, the news comes out there. If someone has a mobile phone, the news comes out. If someone has a Twitter account, out comes the news.
This is a big problem for journalists, particularly for those journalists — and their bosses — who are concerned about their status. So those journalists and those bosses get a little defensive. And when their banners go belly up, and when their bylines fade into he said and she said, those journalists and those bosses stand fast and defend their status.
Those journalists say, hey, I’m a journalist and you’re not. I get to use your stuff in my news, but you don’t get to use my stuff in yours. And if any one of you bloggers or tweeters or cellphoners breaks a story and I report that story, guess who gets the Peabody? Who gets the Pulitzer? I do. Because it’s my news. Because I’m a journalist and you’re not.
And if I’m reporting a really important story (like the Iran election protests, for instance), and if I’m writing under a really important banner (like The New York Times, for instance), and if I’ve got a really important byline (like Andrew Sullivan above the fold, for instance), then I’m a journalist and you’re not. You (like http://iran.robinsloan.com/, for instance) are just an “aggregator.”
I would feel a whole lot better about journalists (and their bosses) getting defensive if journalists paid more attention to the function than the status of their journalism. And I would feel best of all if journalism functioned.