My plea to professional journalists: Don’t drink the Kool-Aid.
Andrew Keen, author of The Cult of the Amateur, calls his blog “The Great Seduction,” but the real seduction here is the idea that UGC, amateur content, can and should be resisted, that somehow, if only professional news organizations would fight back — not use UGC, charge for content, create walled gardens, not go online — do something, anything that doesn’t involving soiling our mastheads with UGC — we can somehow beat back the hordes of Visigoths pounding on our gates.
That’s magical thinking.
I know there are editors and reporters out there who fear the changes in their midst and think if only we would hold a stronger line, we would could save newspapers.
But if you’re like me, and you believe that the reason you got into journalism in the first place was to help make society better, to help shine a light on truth, to serve communities and the afflicted, then I hope you’ll recognize that intransigence does nothing to help the cause.
As I argued in my first post, amateur content has always had its place in the world, and in my second post I asserted that we are part of evolving ecosystem that will get better for content producers and consumers over time.
In this post, my metaphor is a fast moving train, at full steam, with no brakes. We’re on it, baby, and there ain’t no getting off. Jumping off is suicide, so we might as well figure out how to get along with all of the other passengers, some of whom we’re guaranteed not to like.
It’s adapt or die.
And by adapt, I mean, figure out how to play within the new rules, not by insisting the rest of riders follow our old rules â€“ such as demanding that readers pay for our content or that we can be the only authoritative voice.
The media train is hurtling forward, but journalists are not driving. Even the biggest traditional media companies are not at the wheel. In fact, there is nobody making sure we stay on the rails. The train is propelled by collective action — the action of ambitious entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and investors, technology researchers and engineers, computer programmers and amateur hackers and curious and demanding audiences, as well as some of us in the media, with our constant demands for new, different and better. All of these swirling forces create the turbulence that keeps the train on its collusion course with our collective destiny.
And I have no idea what that is, or if we’ll ever really get there.
Scary stuff, to be sure, but that’s the reality of the situation.
So it’s adapt or die.
By adapt I mean, be part of the conversation. We can’t back away from turning our web sites into platforms for community participation.
On the other hand, that doesn’t mean we need to surrender to unmoderated, unfiltered, undifferentiated noise. We can play a role as conversation leaders and mediators. We can train ourselves to be guides and helpers. We can continue with our mission to help the public be better informed and more enlightened.
In fact, the cool thing is, we get to do it with a whole sheath of new tools that journalists never had before, and we can help design the tools and define how they are used in a professional media environment. We can be part of the evolution, if we’re willing to embrace change.
I think it is in our best interest as people with economic responsibilities to our families, ethical responsibilities to our co-workers and employers, and social responsibilities to our communities to take an active role in defining what media looks like tomorrow.
Don’t follow Andrew Keen off the back of the caboose. Follow your audience. Keep moving forward, even as the wind blows off your derby, with its jaunty press pass. This is our mission now.