Friday, November 13, 2009

Media140: Jay Rosen’s Ten Commandments

The keynote speaker on Friday’s session of Sydney’s Media140 was New York University’s Internet doyen Jay Rosen. The 53-year-old journalism professor appeared to his Sydney audience via a Skype hook-up from New York and his speech was a direct challenge from the Big Apple to Big Media. It took the form of an Internet Ten Commandments (all 140 characters or less) both from his own published views and the views of fellow travellers. Rosen is not Moses come down from the mountain but his points were a useful and digestable template for approaching the new media landscape. (photo by Neerav Bhatt)

#1 “Audience atomisation has been overcome”.
Rosen's first point is that media power is now widely dispersed. Rosen wrote about atomisation at his own Press Think blog in January this year drawing on work by Daniel Hallin. Journalists used to be able to define who and what was in the news conversation by virtue of their privileged place in the system. Audiences were atomised as they only talked to the media not to each other. But now there are many alternative networks and voices questioning the media’s right to define agendas. The sphere of legitimate controversy is expanding in both directions at the expense of consensus on one side and what was defined as deviance on the other. People are going around journalists for the news they want, overcoming the atomisation in the process.

#2 “Open systems don’t work like closed systems”.
Here Rosen is asking journalists and bloggers to accept each other's strengths. Again he wrote about this at Press Think in September 2008. Closed systems like the corporate press don’t operate the same way as open ones like free blogs. Closed systems bring editorial oversight and the authority of a respected brand while open ones crowdsource information and are easy to use. What both systems should have is trust and ethics.

#3 “The sources go direct”.
This point is from Dave Winer in May. Sources are a crucial part of the news, says Winer. They will continue to have things to say, even if there is no longer a big media there to listen. Sources already act as quasi-journalists so it is not too great a leap of logic to suggest they will either tell the news themselves or go tell a blogger. Nature abhors a vacuum, Winer is saying, and journalists will not be missed if they disappear.

#4 “When the people formerly known as the audience use the press tools they have to inform one another— that’s citizen journalism”.
This was Rosen in July 2008. It follows on from #3. Citizen, or open source, journalism occurs organically whenever anyone publishes news or information.

#5 “There’s no such thing as information overload, there’s only filter failure”.
This is a quote from fellow NYU professor Clay Shirky from December last year. Shirky is saying the problem is not with the vast amount of information available to us all. This superabundance is beyond the capability of any one person to fathom and we are all regularly confronted with too much information. What we do is filter the flow to make sense of the world. That means a patient process of continuous learning and unlearning. “If the twenty-year-olds aren’t complaining about information overload, it probably isn’t the problem we think it is,” says Shirky.

#6 “Do what you do best and link to the rest.”
This is the famous February 2007 dictum of Google economy advocate Jeff Jarvis. Jarvis’s message is a plea for specialisation: stop trying to become the media of record, and instead concentrate on what you are good at. You can still point to everything else thanks to the remarkable power of the hyperlink.

#7 "Half my advertising is wasted, I just don't know which half."
Unlike the first six recent quotes, this one is almost a century old. Rosen attributes it to Philadelphia businessman John Wanamaker (1838-1922). Wanamaker was talking about the eternal business quandary about whether to market products or brands. The problem has not gone away a hundred years later but perhaps it would be solved with a more integrated view of return on investment.

#8 “‘Here’s where we’re coming from’ is more likely to be trusted than ‘the View from Nowhere’”.
Not exactly a quote but wisdom distilled from an ironically anonymous July blog post at The post is summarised in the title “transparency is the new objectivity”. The claim of objectivity always hides biases. There may be nothing wrong with those biases but the audience should know about them in order to make an informed decision. The net benefit is twofold: trust, and a more nuanced understanding of the issue as presented by the author.

#9 “The hybrid forms will be the strongest forms”.
Rosen’s post from June 2008 is evolutionary praise for mongrel media. Adaptability is required to flourish in an era of two-way and many-to-many communication. New forms will emerge using the best of closed and open systems (see #2). They will most likely be pro-am using a distributed reporting model.

#10 “My readers know more than I do.”
This is a well-known 2003 quote from blogger and journalist Dan Gillmor. In many respects, this is a statement of the obvious. Yet it is one often forgotten - particularly by knowledgeable journalists who may know more about their issue than any other single person. It is in the journalists' interest to co-opt this knowledge otherwise they will be sidelined (see #3 and #4). Gillmor sees it an opportunity not a threat and a necessary adaptation for survival (see #9).

Rosen signed off with the instruction “you gotta grok it before you can rock it”. Sci-fi writer Robert Heinlein coined the word grok to describe the collective influence the observer and the observed have on each other. In this case it means intuitively establishing a rapport with the tools and the times in order to master them. “Be the media” appeared to be Rosen’s parting advice to the people formerly known as his Sydney audience.

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