Over the past few days, I keep flashing back on a blog post by Pete Townshend titled “Open letter to David Lister.” I’ve referenced it in conversations with colleagues, and I was thinking of it when I wrote this post on video and personal communication.
I think rock music is about to throw off some of its testosterone-driven defiance. I may be wrong, but wherever I look today I see younger musicians demanding a new level of intimacy from their audience. ‘Unplugged’ rock is not exactly what is happening. It is more a return to the traditions of Bert Jansch, Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Ewan McColl, Dave Van Ronk, Big Bill Broonzy, Joan Baez and even early Bob Dylan. This is not entirely about Protest, rather about music performed gently that expresses a single idea along the single pathway of the conscience of an individual musician daring to speak up about something they might uniquely believe. Even anger is delivered gently.
Every where I turn today, I see media that is more intimate and more immediate taking root and growing strong. It’s not just music, though I see it in Paste Magazine and hear it on XM Cafe. I read it in blogs, watch it in the best YouTube videos, vlogs and independent films. I view it in photo sharing sites. It’s what drives social networking. People are reaching out to touch other people, not be impressed by concepts or ideologies, wowed by trends or gather just one more factoid. They want the human spirit and the human soul.
I tried to express this before: The personal computer, a mobile phone, an iPod, a DVR, etc. are all intimately personal devices. The radios and televisions we grew up with were shared experiences. They captured a transitory signal, and if we happened to tune in at the right moment, we knew what was seen and heard was being simultaneously seen and heard by others. When the signal was gone, the moment was gone. We could only recapture it in a personal way when we gathered around the water cooler.
A cassette or VHS tape made media somewhat more personal and shareable, but we still lacked a certain level of control.
Digital technology changes everything. Now, what we download, we own. When it arrives on our computer screen, it is ours to keep, if we want.
Once we own something, it changes our relationship with it. We want it to mean something to us. We want to interact with it, mix it or answer it.
For that segment of the web audience who has tuned into the power of blogs, I think this is what has energized their passion for blogging. The best bloggers write in individual voices. We know they’re real people. We feel like we can engage in a conversation and get an answer.
I’m coming to the conclusion that the new journalism is Personal Journalism.
Personal Journalism is just as ethical as old-school public journalism. It still values facts, fairness, truth telling and good reporting. It’s just that personal journalism is written differently. It is written from one person, a person we can identify and identify with, for one person. The byline is more than a name under a headline in Personal Journalism. It is the persona and the personality. Personal journalists do more than report the story. They let us see at least a little about who they are, what they believe, what drives them and what they find important. If a personal journalist has a bias, we know it. That is part of the truth-telling tradition all journalists should endorse, but only personal journalists make it a practice.
Personal Journalism is shareable because people like to share what has touched them in a direct, intimate way, be it a song, a video or a good story.
Personal Journalists let other people help with the fact gathering or putting the facts in context, because Personal Journalism is part of a conversation, not a proprietary, walled garden.
Personal journalists can be writers, recorders or picture takers, but for the sake of clarity, I’ve written the definition from a writer’s point of view.
In the future, all journalists will be personal journalists. Within five to ten years, if you’re not a personal journalist, you will be out of work, and if your news organization hasn’t embraced personal journalism, it will be out of business. Well, that may be going a bit too far, because I’m not sure personal journalism is required of those who report for print or broadcast, but it is required of online journalists. So long as print survives, even in newsletters for the elderly and the elite, public journalism will survive. In the online world, personal journalism will be the only journalism people consistently seek.
In the past, I’ve struggled for the right words to describe where I see journalism going. I think with the term Personal Journalism and my proposed definition, I might be on to something.
UPDATE: Having slept on it a night, I think — maybe this isn’t something we adopt or impose, maybe it is just how we evolve. Maybe it’s inevitable. But then I think, but if this is where the audience is going, and it’s what our disruptors do (such as blogs), then if we don’t consciously make the switch, can we survive?