The Real Battle Will Be Fought Deeper Afield And By Professionals

I’m today in Las Vegas, where the Radio & Television News Directors Association (RTNDA) section of the National Association of Broadcasters annual convention has ended and the Broadcast Education Association (BEA) section has just begun. Although I work with RTNDA members, I’m today addressing the BEA because the latter organization is both at the cutting-edge and behind the times when the subject is the new medium.

How can broadcast educators be simultaneously at the cutting-edge and behind? Because the deal with students who will be the future of journalism but the educators are even behind print journalism educators when the topic is the new medium.

Moreover, my focus today isn’t on the generals in the field of new media education, but on the colonels. Forget what the national newspapers or national news networks are doing in the new medium! >The real battle will be fought deeper afield. Find a solution for the average sized newspaper or for the local TV station. That’s what needs to be done! Solve those problems and the future will be secure.

Some of my peers are fixated on ‘citizen journalism’, blogging, or podcasting as the solutions to everything that ills media. No, sorry, nice as those things are, those aren’t the solutions.

‘Citizen journalism’ is merely the tone of journalism practiced by newspapers prior to 1920 in Europe or prior to 1960 in the U.S. (have a look in public libraries’ newspaper archives). Coverage was eyewitness and most subject matter was intensely local if not parochial. Mainstream media reporters nowadays have forgotten how to report that and, at the local level, are fixated on being ‘mini-me’s’ of national media; amateurs need no such reminders nor poses. But the other cogent difference between professional reporters and amateur reporters is that the former know how to be objective, balance, and probative. The professional knows how to uncover the news, not just comment on it. That’s called journalism.

Anyone, including journalists, can blog. But bloggers aren’t journalists unless they are objective, balances, and uncover the news, not just comment about it. Blogs are a form of information conveyance, not the information itself.

Podcasting isn’t the ‘future of radio’, as some of my peers have termed it. Podcasting isn’t even about podcasting. What podcasting actually is about is getting exactly the content that matches your individual interests. Just as Napster wasn’t about ‘free music’ but was actually more about getting exactly the songs you wanted, rather than being forced to buy an entire album at exorbitant prices, so too is podcasting about individualization of content. (I hate the misnomer ‘personalization’. Personalization is when the junk mail envelope containing an uncustomized message says ‘Dear Vin’; it’s a personalized junk mail. Individualization or customization is when the entire content of the message matches my unique interests.)

But the overall reason why my peers are mostly wrong is that people prefer professionalism. They want news that’s reported by someone who is objective, balanced, and capable of uncovering the news — not an amateur. Sure, amateurs can report the news, and they should. But just as I’d prefer to have professional bus drivers, rather than amateurs, drive my town’s municipal, so too do I think that people prefer professionally reported news.

No, it won’t be just news reported by professionals; there is still room for amateurs to contribute, comments, and add perspectives to news reports. Yes, news should be somewhat of a ‘conversation’, rathe than a monologue by professional reporters. However, the concept that all news should be reported by citizens is as realistics as communism or the French Revolution. Wonderful in concept, but impractical and somewhat, shall we say, dark in practice.

Let’s instead get the professionals to report in ways that are more relevant to most people’s lives. Local, individual, and direct.

My panel today at the BEA session is Reinventing the Local TV Station: Ground-Breaking Ideas from Three Innovative Thinkers. I’d now post what I intend to say. However, I’m sure I’ll change what I’ll say, individualizing the content to the audience, as the panel gets closer today. After all, that’s the beauty of individualization. (I’m always amazed when a conference organizer asks me to submit my speech weeks or days in advance. how can I atune it to the needs of the audience until I actually meet the audience?) But I will post my speech after I deliver it today. For whatever that might be worth, stay tuned.