Journalism is an inherently arrogant profession. From the nucleus of the idea – we write something, the reader reads it – it’s something that thrives off a sense of superiority. That may or may not be unavoidable, but I’m very uninterested in the idea of a traditionalist, egocentric model of journalism.
A month or so ago I tweeted this:
Honestly – Bylines, what purpose do they serve apart from ego. Is there a legal issue?
It led to several responses (which I’d link to but can’t seem to find them in searches) but they were fairly varied. Some thought it was an interesting subject. Others spoke about accountability. Almost all were negative. The interesting thing about a journalism industry losing its ego is that it only works if everyone co-operates.
Here’s a hypothetical situation; I have a brilliant idea about a new blogging platform. I have it visualised in my head, and proceed to write it all down. I then meet up with a developer and coder to help flesh out the idea and make it real. I accept that I need their help. I don’t need to learn code, I just know that these people can help me out, and vice versa.
We create the blogging platform, and it’s moderately successful. The developer takes credit for it, saying that it was his idea. All along I’ve pursued an agenda of openness – willing to share ideas freely and accept that this is our project rather than mine or yours. We all have a part to play. But the system falls down because someone isn’t playing by the same set of rules. You can be as evangelical as you like about losing ego in journalism, but unless everyone plays ball it doesn’t work.
How is it that when open-source culture exists we can still be bound by a legacy concept of how journalists operate? This isn’t anything to do with content or economics but a mindset. We need to bring the journalist down the hierarchy of perceived authority, and earn that authority by the work we produce and the community we serve. Up until now, the mindset of the industry has been “I am a journalist, therefore I am authoritative”. In a world in which the public can access media through a myriad of different sources, this attitude should no longer be prevalent.
I’m pessimistic about an ego-free industry ever appearing, at least not in my lifetime. Ego is woven into the fabric of the industry so tightly that it’s very hard to escape. Journalism schools, for their part, haven’t done anything to assuage this. Becoming part of a big media organisation (where this attitude is most common) is still touted as the golden ticket, and it’s only with a young generational shift that something like this is ever likely to change.
It’s ego that makes journalists stand alongside politicians and government ministers as the least trusted professions. It’s ego that makes people roll their eyes when you tell them you’re a journalist. And it’s ego that makes you write what you think should be the news rather than what your community thinks.
In reality everything is a shared effort, and failing to acknowledge that smacks of ego. It was a shared effort before crowdsourcing was a word, and it was a shared effort before social media. Only now it’s a lot more obvious. Journalists need to can the ego, and start thinking like members of a community, not as overseers.