If Astronomers Can Happily Share The Business With Amateurs, Why Do Some Journalists Get So Upset?

from the inferiority-complex dept

We were recently talking about some of the strawmen complaints that some (though, certainly not all) journalists put up in protesting the idea of "citizen" journalism (which should, more accurately, be called participatory journalism). One of the bigger strawmen is this idea that people think that amateur journalists mean that professional journalists aren't needed. There may be someone out there who does believe it, but most supporters of participatory journalism believe the two work together quite well.

Hulser alerts us to a recent NPR piece about astronomy, where one astronomer talks about the very friendly relationship between professional astronomers and amateur astronomers:
Jupiter's disappearing belt wouldn't have been noticed so quickly without those hobbyists, Beatty says. In fact, in astronomy, the pros depend on the amateurs to sound celestial alerts.

"There aren't enough professionals to keep track of everything going on in the universe all the time," Beatty says. "So in a sense, they rely on amateur astronomers -- who have very good equipment, by the way -- to actually keep an eye on things."
This seems like a much more reasonable approach. It also raises questions about why some journalists feel so threatened by amateurs in their space, but other professions are able to find a happy balance. Hulser suggests
"It's my sense that journalists have a more paternalistic view of themselves in comparison to the "amateurs" i.e. bloggers or commenters, whereas professional astronomers appear to have a longstanding cooperative relationship. Professional astronomers are humble enough to admit they can't see everything themselves and accept the help."
There could be plenty of other reasons, as well. My guess is that there is a general dislike of the "mainstream media" in many circles, so some in the press already feel under attack. So they interpret efforts to boost journalism with help from others as being an aspect of that threat, even if it's really an attempt to help. A secondary issue may have to do with the general standing of newspapers today -- with many in financial trouble, it's natural for those employed by the media to view an influx of others, who can do at least some aspect of their job, as a threat rather than as a resource to be utilized.

All of this does make me wonder, however, if various new journalism business models will need to take this issue into account, in making sure that they don't freak out some group of existing journalists, or if it just makes more sense to plow ahead, and let those who don't like it deal with the issue on their own. It could be something worth exploring as part of the Techdirt Saves* Journalism brainstorming workshop we'll be running on June 16th.


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  1.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 3rd, 2010 @ 11:46pm

    And how many professional astronomers are mostly funded through grants and donations from companies and the government?

    If these companies and governments looked around and said "well hey, there are all these amateurs doing astronomy for free, we'll just stop funding astronomers and give the money to physicists instead" the relationship would be a wee bit more contentious.

    As often comes up in the discussion of journalists, government grants are a touchy subject when it comes to journalists (conflict of interest and all), and so that avenue is largely closed to them. The charity model (e.g., ProPublica) works just fine, and maybe we will just have to see journalists apply for grants from companies and non-governmental organizations in the future.

    How many professional astronomers would there be if there were basically no government grants and few corporate grants for astronomy, and professional astronomers had to subsist on non-subsidized business models?

     

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    Mike Masnick (profile), Jun 3rd, 2010 @ 11:56pm

    Re:

    And how many professional astronomers are mostly funded through grants and donations from companies and the government?

    For the life of me, I can't figure out how that matters.

    If these companies and governments looked around and said "well hey, there are all these amateurs doing astronomy for free, we'll just stop funding astronomers and give the money to physicists instead" the relationship would be a wee bit more contentious.


    Strawman. Who has said that anyone should stop funding journalists and just let the amateurs do it instead?

    As often comes up in the discussion of journalists, government grants are a touchy subject when it comes to journalists (conflict of interest and all), and so that avenue is largely closed to them. The charity model (e.g., ProPublica) works just fine, and maybe we will just have to see journalists apply for grants from companies and non-governmental organizations in the future.

    I'm not sure what this has to do with anything?

     

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    Yeebok (profile), Jun 4th, 2010 @ 12:12am

    It's quite simple really.

    I think the mentality / nature of the people doing the work dictates how they feel to an extent.
    A 'true' scientist loves* learning, telling and sharing information because it helps them do their job better. I mean all scientists, not just astronomers, etc. True, most either do it for the love, or because they've got a grant of some description.
    A journalist is* different - but they need their name on the byline as well - a journalist needs being quick. They get paid rather than have a grant. Sure they like sharing knowledge but only if they're the one telling it.
    That's the way I think about it, and I may have oversimplified it but it's clear enough.

    * Disclaimer: the above most likely contains statements that do not accurately portray every single member of the named groups.

     

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    Nick, Jun 4th, 2010 @ 12:12am

    Really?

    I think the answer is obvious. In an industry that is already being assailed from all sides, citizen journalists are one more problem.

    How you ask? Because they are citizens, not journalists.

    Journalists and photojournalists are trained and paid to get the stories and information and deliver them to the public. Citizen journalists are people walking around and taking pictures of car wrecks or talking with someone interesting in their town.

    It's akin to letting a passenger drive the subway. It's probably fine for a while, but when something happens, everyone will cry, "Where is the driver?"

    In the case of journalism, the driver has left the subway. He's writing advertising copy because he can't survive creating real news.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 4th, 2010 @ 12:22am

    Re: Re:

    For the life of me, I can't figure out how that matters.

    Because grant-based work does not have to be directly tied to a P&L statement and immediate monetary value to continue to get funding year-over-year. That work is being subsidized by some other activity that is.

    Strawman. Who has said that anyone should stop funding journalists and just let the amateurs do it instead?

    Q1 ad revenues for newspapers, which pay for the employment of many professional journalists, have dropped from something like $11B to $6B over the last five years. Some of that money is going to buy blog ads and supporting (though not fully) "amateur" journalists. The water is drying up in the pond, and some of it is going to this new wave of amateurs.

    There is no analog to this in the astronomical community. "Why can't journalists just all get along like those nice astronomers do?" Because half the astronomers aren't having their livelihoods threatened. When the NSF decides to cut funding for astronomers by 50%, and give 10% of that to amateurs in $100 increments, you tell me how well those happy humble astronomers get along then.

    I'm not sure what this has to do with anything?

    As I said above, grant funding is stable and generally only indirectly results-oriented. This is wonderful money, if you can get it. The shrinking pond of money allocated to journalism will not be made up by government grants. This is only going to increase the pressure on professional journalists.

     

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    Derek, Jun 4th, 2010 @ 12:29am

    Participatory journalism wouldn't be succeeding if there wasn't a need.

    If my local newspaper wants me to get my news from them, all they have to do is start reporting it.

     

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    Trav, Jun 4th, 2010 @ 12:49am

    What is the best news?

    Funny thing is, I would trust a story more, if written by someone who is self employed or hobbyist as they can write whatever they want, and stuff might not be edited out.

    Though that said you might get a very biased opinion. So its best to read from several sources to see what varies.

    I honestly do not trust big news media's. Not that i do not personally trust them, but exactly what freedom they really have to tell the truth.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 4th, 2010 @ 1:00am

    There is also the issue of "journalistic standards." Yes, I know that nobody believes that those exist (or perhaps ever existed) around here. I imagine that most professional journalists do believe that they both exist and existed.

    Professional standards are set when society decides that in a particular field, quality is more important than quantity. High-stakes fields like medicine and law are typical examples. In these fields, practitioners are expected to operate at a higher standard of care than an unregulated market would allow, and are in turn afforded special privileges. One such privilege is exclusive ability to practice (as is the case for medicine and law in the U.S., and engineering in some other countries). For journalists in the U.S., they are afforded special shield laws and such.

    Interestingly, at least in the U.S., even these high-stakes professions are self-regulating. Doctors regulate doctors. Lawyers regulate lawyers. Journalists regulate journalists.

    This bargain is struck on the honor system. There is a constant tension between self-regulating professions and those special protections: is the self-regulation good enough to continue to afford those exclusive protections to professionals in that field? Are the standards high enough, and are they working? If they aren't, whither the special protections?

    The community consensus around here seems to be that journalists have not met their burden, and deserve no special protection. (I'm sure that there are a substantial number of people here who would argue that neither have the medical or legal professions, actually).

    Amateurs are fighting for, and in some cases winning, the special protections previously only afforded to professionals.

    This is an an affront to the profession. Since the profession regulates itself, it is not-too-indirectly an affront to professional journalists personally. It's saying "you have failed to meet your duty of care and are no better than amateurs. We are revoking your special protections."

    Many amateurs, plus the peanut gallery around here, are slapping journalists in the face through this discourse and attitude. Whether or not they deserve it, they got slapped. Getting slapped in the face is never fun and it certainly doesn't make you feel all warm and snuggly with the one doing the slapping. I am sure that many journalists think that they DO work to a higher standard, and DO deserve those protections, which means they certainly don't think they did anything to deserve it.

    Astronomers don't exist in this climate. The sciences have largely escaped the stigma of being "high stakes professions" in need of regulation, despite their involvement in high-stakes events like the development of the atomic bomb and influencing policy on global warming. Nearly all sciences have professional societies that establish codes of ethics and practice, but these are mostly ornamental. The difference between a professional astronomer and an amateur one is, and always has been, the ability and desire to get employed as a professional.

    Unlike in astronomy, there is a line between professional and amateur journalists, which is being blurred or erased. The line separated those bound by a code of practices and ethics from those who were not bound. It defined a group that was afforded special social privilege by virtue of its higher standards and barriers to entry. Now you're taking that away. Again, it is little wonder that journalists feel threatened.

    I wonder if this is a positive development or not. You can blame professional journalists for this all you want, but it doesn't change the fact that it's happening. I personally do view journalism as a high-stakes profession (although not as high as medicine, for example). I think that quality is more important than quantity in journalism as well. I seem to be in the minority here, though, since the free market will save us all. Sigh.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 4th, 2010 @ 1:06am

    Journalists are greedy! They all know it's a high-paying field and that's why they chose it!

     

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    grumpy (profile), Jun 4th, 2010 @ 1:55am

    > There is also the issue of "journalistic standards." Yes, I know that nobody believes that those exist (or perhaps ever existed) around here

    Oh they existed alright, they've just been destroyed by the rush for gold that's pervading "journalism" everywhere.

    As for the profession policing itself - get outta here. The yellow press has won the war. The only thing that counts these days is "how many eyeballs can we get ads to?", in print, broadcast or digitally. This is like the lawyer profession - 90% are ruining it for the rest. Journalists are arrogant tossers to think that they're still owed any respect. If it wasn't for the last 10% we'd be better off without them, but unfortunately a democratic society needs that 10% so we'll have to live with the rest.

    I write for a living. Code, that is. If it's not worth money, I don't get paid. And I don't bitch about open source, I like it but mostly ignore it as the quality is usually not very high. My customers know that too so they happily pay my bills, knowing that what they get is what they need.

     

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    Richard (profile), Jun 4th, 2010 @ 2:18am

    Re:

    I think the problem here is that the public simply does not see professional journalists actually delivering quality.

    I remember a few years ago (pre-internet) a friend of mine was involved in a legal case about a disputed bequest that was reported in the press. His comment at the end of the process was that if the accuracy of reporting of his case was representative of the accuracy of press reporting in general then heaven help us - because we simply have no idea about what is going on in the world.

    On the handful of occasions when I have been in similar position to him I have noticed the same thing and so has every friend or acquaintance that I have ever discussed this issue with (even including a friend who is a journalist himself).

    Most recently, observing press reporting of the recent tragic events in Cumbria I noted that a number of things were said early on that later turned out to be untrue. This does give the impression that in the absence of reliable information the press will simply print whatever they are told without making adequate checks - or even just make stuff up.

    As things stand "professional" journalism offers two things over amateur.

    1. There is a small minority amongst professionals whose writing style is really entertaining and/or who have the ability to analyse a topic, construct an argument and put over a novel way of thinking effectively.

    2. Only professional journalists have the combination of resources/contacts/commitment to go to the really difficult places (war zones, closed countries etc). Although (on second thoughts) even here there may be aid workers etc who could fill in the job.

    Given modern technology for distribution there may be a problem constructing a business model to support these activities. In the UK, unless certain politicians get their way, we can rely on the BBC to fill this slot - but it would be better if they had some competition.

     

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    Josef, Jun 4th, 2010 @ 2:21am

    Re: Re: Re:

    I think you're missing the point AC. Those amateur journalists are not threatening the livelihood of the professionals. The media companies who decided that the web was no big threat and did little to adapt to the change in technology are the ones who are threatening those jobs.

    That drop in ad revenue is being felt across all older media models because of the web. You can't blame people who saw an opportunity and took it. It makes more sense that large companies were better able to leverage the power of the web early on, but they didn't see how to make money without selling content. They wanted paywalls to work (and still pray that they will work) but we have seen that doesn't work.

     

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    Richard (profile), Jun 4th, 2010 @ 2:27am

    Astronomers

    There are very few professional astronomers. In the UK we have around 20-30 institutions employing maybe 20-30 each - and many of those will be research fellows on short contracts, who probably have no long term future in the subject. A large proportion of the rest will be mainly teaching staff with only a part time involvement in research. Professional journalism may be heading towards similar numbers. This may be bad news for aspiring professional journalists but the astronomers demonstrate that the profession can survive quite well at this level given the support of amateurs.

     

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    Nick Coghlan (profile), Jun 4th, 2010 @ 2:34am

    Re: Re: Re:

    Could you further explain the difference between grant money and advertising money?

    They're both forms of sponsorship to perform work that can't be sold directly, but offers value to the sponsor in some way (whether its a hope for future commercialisation, access to an audience, good PR or some other less tangible benefit).

    I think you're also getting confused about the difference between "amateur" and "professional". The technical distinction is whether or not you're getting paid to do it (and a lot of online only journalists, such as the staff at Ars Technica, are indeed full-time paid professionals). The incorrect-but-oft-used definition of whether or not you have formal training in the task you're being paid for is pretty irrelevant (in the specific case of journalism, an awful lot of what you need to know to be a good journalist can't be learned in a classroom at all, so that formal training doesn't make as much of a difference as you might first think).

    As Mike is fond of saying, it can definitely be viewed as a business model issue. Many existing news organisations aren't set up to benefit from amateur journalism, and hence tend to see it as a threat. In contrast, newer organisations like Ars Technica build audience participation into the model from the start.

    That said, even the behemoths like News Limited are starting to figure this out. After major unexpected events, our local newspaper (a News Ltd publication) is pretty quick to put the call out on its website for amateur photos and video footage.

     

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    Technopolitical (profile), Jun 4th, 2010 @ 3:21am

    relationship between professional astronomers and amateur astronomers:"

    from mikes post :
    "where one astronomer talks about the very friendly relationship between professional astronomers and amateur astronomers:"

    Me :
    as you know mike from carefully reading everything i post here @ techdirt,, Astronomy is my big lifetime hobby( -- why do you always post of topics cited in my comments -- but yet never really reply to me direct ??--- either way I am honored.)

    The ONLY difference between amateur Astronomers and "professional" ones, is a contract w/ an institution and a salary.

    In astronomy circles ---probably more than other sciences -- there is really no practical "scientific research" difference between pros & amateurs.

    Galileo was an amateur astronomer technically.

    Most named comets are discovered by amateur Astronomers.

     

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    PaulT (profile), Jun 4th, 2010 @ 3:30am

    Re: Re:

    "I think the problem here is that the public simply does not see professional journalists actually delivering quality."

    Yeah, you hit the nail on the head here, I think. Between Murdoch's right wing propaganda outlets and the "professional" sources that simply regurgitate AP releases, the age of real journalism is pretty dead. A lot of opposers to "amateur" journalists tend to stick to a romantic ideal as if Bernstein and Woodward were the models for modern professional journalists. Unfortunately, that age is dead and buried.

     

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    Technopolitical (profile), Jun 4th, 2010 @ 3:36am

    In astronomy circles ---probably more than other sciences -- there is really no practical "scientific research" difference between pros & amateurs.

    Let me elaborte:

    An astronomer needs only his/her eyeball , and something to magnify the light -- a telescope -- to do scientific work OR just take pictures.

    That is way it is a cool --- and pretty inexpensive--- serious hobby for kids and adults.

    Amateur Astronomers are -- and have always been --- a very big part of astronomical visual-light-research.

    (Radio & X-ray astronomy needs the big $$ for infrastructure and is a horse of a different color,, but it is still a horse.)



    A bio-tech guy ,, needs a big lab, loads of VERY expensive equipment , and liability insurance , (in case he releases a new life form that the goes wild and eats the city of Pittsburgh .)

     

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    Richard (profile), Jun 4th, 2010 @ 4:10am

    Re: It's quite simple really. - no - false dichotomy

    True, most either do it for the love, or because they've got a grant of some description.
    A journalist is* different - but they need their name on the byline as well - a journalist needs being quick.


    Actually most professional scientist have just as much need to get their authorship recognised as any journalists. If you want the next grant then you had better make some impact with the present one - and that means papers, published in good journals, that get read and referenced by your peers.

    For those who haven't yet got a tenured position (at any time this is typically 30%-50% of the active researchers) the need for recognition is even more pressing - because their current short term contract will probably expire in a year or so - and they need to keep building the career.

     

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    PaulT (profile), Jun 4th, 2010 @ 4:39am

    Re: relationship between professional astronomers and amateur astronomers:"

    "The ONLY difference between amateur Astronomers and "professional" ones, is a contract w/ an institution and a salary."

    OK, so back to the point of the article... what's the actual difference between an amateur journalist and an amateur one? In the past, that was easy to answer - a pro would research stories, have a catalogue of sources, stick meticulously to a professional standard of writing and not publish until all facts were checked. Today, many bloggers and most print journalists are nearly indistinguishable apart from their salaries.

     

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    Richard (profile), Jun 4th, 2010 @ 5:17am

    Re: Really?

    It's akin to letting a passenger drive the subway. It's probably fine for a while, but when something happens, everyone will cry, "Where is the driver?"

    Subways don't need drivers these days - in fact not for nearly 50 years
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victoria_line#Service_and_rolling_stock

    so your analogy proves exactly the opposite of what you were trying to say.

     

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    Eric, Jun 4th, 2010 @ 5:24am

    Journalism as wine...

    It seems whenever I hear people defending "journalism" or the "professional writers" they describe their importance like people describe wine.. with useless metaphors and adjectives. The only difference between a professional and a amateur is $$. A professional by definition gets paid, a amateur usually doesn't. THAT'S THE ONLY DIFFERENCE.

    Integrity and all those other colorful words mean nothing. That possible college education in "Journalism" or "English" only means you stayed awake long enough to get at least a "C" average. The pro's realize this and that's why they fight so hard, because the gatekeeper of publishing has been torn down. Anyone can publish now. If anyone thinks "Professional" means something, all they have to do is read a small town local newspaper.. where all the "C" students got a job.

     

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    paul (profile), Jun 4th, 2010 @ 5:25am

    They were once amateurs too

    I think one key difference is that many astronomers have had a life-long love of astronomy. They were studying the heavens long before any thought of doing so professionally even occurred to them. If they lost their jobs, they would still study astronomy. So perhaps they see a certain kindred spirit with the amateurs.

    Professional journalism seems to be more focused on the "professional" then the "journalism." Why that's the case I can't say, but the effect is to set up an antagonism between the "professionals" and the "amateurs."

     

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    Liquid (profile), Jun 4th, 2010 @ 5:26am

    Bad analogy:

    Space is vast, and to big to explore by a hand full of people. Career Astronomers don't get to look through telescopes all night when they want to. Most if not all of them have to book observatories days, months, if not years in advance. That's why they embrace the amateur community so well. You read a lot on some farmer in B.F.E North Dakota who watched a super nova on his $100 telescope from wal-mart. The cop(s) who catch meteors falling from the sky on their dash cams when no one else catches them. It's not about money in this field of work unlike the news industry. Yeah career astronomers fight for grants to fund their research, but that's it. When some amateur finds something that they don't have time to investigate, or didn't see the astronomy community gives them the recognition for it.

    There is only so much news in the world. New reporters, and journalists have to fight for those good money making stories. When someone unknown amateur comes in with a hot story that person makes the money on it. So yeah if you worked in the news field making money on all the good stories, and a bunch of amateurs come in all the time with the good stuff you'd get pissed off too.

     

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    mermaldad (profile), Jun 4th, 2010 @ 5:30am

    Re: In astronomy circles ---probably more than other sciences -- there is really no practical "scientific research" difference between pros & amateurs.

    and liability insurance , (in case he releases a new life form that the goes wild and eats the city of Pittsburgh .)
    Actually, a study was conducted and it turns out that very few people would mind if something ate Pittsburgh (with the exception of some people in Pittsburgh, of course). Cleveland is the same way. And Detroit. And L.A.

     

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    Richard (profile), Jun 4th, 2010 @ 6:27am

    Re: relationship between professional astronomers and amateur astronomers:"

    The ONLY difference between amateur Astronomers and "professional" ones, is a contract w/ an institution and a salary.

    Actually there are four different categories

    Professional "Professional astronomers" - with training to PhD level and a paid job

    Amateur "Amateur Astronomers" No formal training - doing it for the love ...
    Professional "Amateur Astronomers" - No formal training but with a developed reputation to the point where they can find paid work commenting for the media etc etc eg Patrick Moore.

    Amateur "Profesional Astronomers" - who went through the training, got a PhD, wrote papers in the top journals but were unable to find a tenured position - now still doing it for the love.

    and, actually a fifth category

    Professional, Amateur "Professional Astronomers" - with training - later working as amateurs - now able to do so media work - eg Brian May.

    There are many who will flip between the categories during their lives so it is not surprising that they all get on together.

     

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    PaulT (profile), Jun 4th, 2010 @ 6:45am

    "So yeah if you worked in the news field making money on all the good stories, and a bunch of amateurs come in all the time with the good stuff you'd get pissed off too."

    They can still compete, by offering regularly high quality reporting, revealing investigations, insightful and expert analysis, etc.

    They're only panicing because they think that celebrity gossip, fearmongering and biased articles and reprinted AP feeds are "journalism". Anyone can do that, hence the fear.

     

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    fogbugzd (profile), Jun 4th, 2010 @ 6:55am

    Re: Really?

    >>I think the answer is obvious. In an industry that is already being assailed from all sides, citizen journalists are one more problem.

    I think this hits the nail on the head. When an industry or profession is threatened it is pretty common to look for external threats to blame. It doesn't really matter whether the thing being blamed is the actual problem, or even if it is a problem at all; when you are looking for a scapegoat the facts don't really matter as long as you whine loudly enough. Look at the recording industry that tries to blame its problems on piracy, when there the evidence suggests that what they call piracy may actually be helping the industry.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Jun 4th, 2010 @ 7:20am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    audeience participate and amateur journalism are not exactly the same thing. encouraging comments (like this site) doesnt suddenly make us all journalists, it just makes us "morons with a keyboard". even when you look at miek and the rest of the techdirt 'staff', you will see that almost every story posted has spelling errors, misleading headlines, incomplete information, and the like. the usual answer is 'we are not journalists', which seems like a pretty convenient answer.

    as for the overall story, outside of selling $100 telescopes at walmart, is there any actual 'for profit' business models in astronomy? or are we enjoying a fine apples to oranges comparison, just to fill in a friday afternoon posting schedule?

     

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    Hulser (profile), Jun 4th, 2010 @ 7:25am

    Re:

    There is also the issue of "journalistic standards." Yes, I know that nobody believes that those exist (or perhaps ever existed) around here. I imagine that most professional journalists do believe that they both exist and existed.

    You make it sound like there's no way that the pros and amateurs in journalism can work together to deliver an overall better product because the amateurs don't live up to a set of arbitrary standards. So, accepting that professional journalists do their best to live up to the standards of the profession, this doesn't mean that a journalist can't, for example, do an in depth investigation on a topic uncovered by a blogger and give the blogger proper credit. Or that they can't engage commenters on their forum which might lead to new information about a story. The topic isn't about amateurs replacing professionals; it's about coming up with a workable solution that involves both pros and amateurs.

     

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    Hulser (profile), Jun 4th, 2010 @ 7:41am

    Re: They were once amateurs too

    I think one key difference is that many astronomers have had a life-long love of astronomy.

    What you call a key difference, I see as a key similarity. If you write a popular blog, I think the chances are pretty good that you have a life-long love of writing.

    If they lost their jobs, they would still study astronomy. So perhaps they see a certain kindred spirit with the amateurs.

    How does this support the "key difference" from journalists? Many journalists who have lost their jobs become bloggers. Many amateur bloggers would jump at the chance to go pro.

    In my opinion, the key difference is one of attitude. I think this is changing, but the sense I get is that many journalists see themselves as the arbiters of truth. For so long, anything that they wrote was taken unquestionably as truth. They don't like being second guessed or, worse, proven wrong by the rabble. I'm not an astronomer, but it seems like there is a much more healthy relationship between amateurs and professionals in astromony. Professional astromoners do whatever it is that they're good at, but still find room to take valuable input from the amateurs. They even properly attribute discoveries to the amateurs, something that professional journalists almost never do when they rip off a story from a blogger.

     

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  31.  
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    Hulser (profile), Jun 4th, 2010 @ 7:53am

    Re: Bad analogy:

    Space is vast, and to big to explore by a hand full of people.

    The world is vast, and too big for just a hand full of professional journalists to be able to cover themselves.

    You read a lot on some farmer in B.F.E North Dakota who watched a super nova on his $100 telescope from wal-mart.

    And how is this different from a blogger with a $100 netbook writing a post that draws more hits than a professional journalist with the vast resources of a major newpapers?

    There is only so much news in the world.

    I can't see how this statement could be any more wrong. Just because cable news channels obsess about a handful of stories and the rest of the mainstream media jumps on the bandwagon on the other few top stories, doesn't mean that there aren't more news out there. There are as many potential news stories as there are stars. What's wrong with bloggers finding and popularizing these stories in the same way that amateur astronomers search the skies?

    So yeah if you worked in the news field making money on all the good stories, and a bunch of amateurs come in all the time with the good stuff you'd get pissed off too.

    Discovering the story is only the first part of delivering the content around the story. An individual blogger may discover a story or many bloggers may raise awareness about a story, but there is room for a professional journalist, with their additional resources and contacts, to perform an in depth investigation and add to what's already been put out there.

     

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  32.  
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    longtimelurker, Jun 4th, 2010 @ 8:03am

    good step

    If 'citizen journalists' can simply get the "professional journalists" to replace their current and longstanding idea of 'If it bleeds it leads", I think we'll all be better served. Don't see it happening, though, instead they'd rather scream that they are bleeding.

     

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  33.  
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    Richard (profile), Jun 4th, 2010 @ 8:05am

    Re: Re: Re:

    As I said above, grant funding is stable and generally only indirectly results-oriented. This is wonderful money, if you can get it. The shrinking pond of money allocated to journalism will not be made up by government grants. This is only going to increase the pressure on professional journalists.

    Grass is always greener, isn't it?

    Keyword is if.

    Grant funding is far from stable and very hard to get. The number of astronomers able to work full time on grant funded research is tiny. Employment in journalism has a loooong way to fall before it hits those numbers.

    9 out of 10 budding astronomers who go through the "training" (ug degree in maths/physics - you'll almost certainly need the top grade from a good institution, Masters, then PhD and one or two postdoctoral positions - total 10-15 years) never get a tenured position. Generally they don't expect to. Those that do make it accept that they have been incredibly lucky.

    If journalists thought the same way they wouldn't see a problem.

     

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  34.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 4th, 2010 @ 8:21am

    Re: Re:

    "For the life of me, I can't figure out how that matters." - did you miss the part of the mba that discussed profit motivations?

     

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  35.  
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    Technopolitical (profile), Jun 4th, 2010 @ 9:00am

    Re: Re: relationship between professional astronomers and amateur astronomers:"

    "categories during their lives so it is not surprising that they all get on together."

    The astro- parties are cool.

    What other science has parties by setting up their main tool -- here the telescope -- en mass on the great lawn in Central Park ?

    ( Hoe could you have a bio-chemistry party? Pepsi & mentos?)

    As well there are Astro-communities.

    Small towns with very dark skies , where astros live and/or retire to. ( I hope to !)

    But really , right , it is very fluid, amateur -pro- serious amateur- retired pro.

    And you really do not need a telescope , which for me living in NYC is pretty useless.

    But Space.com , and spaceweather.com are
    daily stops on the web for me.

    ----

    as far as the journalist issues, maybe later, but i really do not see a hot issue there. I will explain why later.
    ------------------------

     

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  36.  
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    Richard (profile), Jun 4th, 2010 @ 9:15am

    Re: Re: Re: relationship between professional astronomers and amateur astronomers:"

    The astro- parties are cool.


    Yes, plus the pro's have a lot of older/teaching equipment lying around and they are generally very willing to share it with the amateurs - in our University we have "open dome events" where anyone can come in and get access to some of the equipment eg :
    http://www.ntu.ac.uk/cels/outreach/events/96238.html

     

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  37.  
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    NAMELESS ONE, Jun 4th, 2010 @ 10:10am

    cause once your in frontt of a tv camera

    cause once your in front of a tv camera, you like actors think your entitled to more then you should be.

    IM ALL for these twits not sharing as nike would say

    JUST DO IT
    go away we the rest of the world will live on.
    and we'll get the news elsewhere and i\unbiased form your corporate masters

     

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  38.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 4th, 2010 @ 10:50am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    I always find it funny that journalists didn't see any of this coming. Couldn't do any investigating? Make a phone call or two? Check some facts about this whole "internet" thing and how it all worked?

     

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  39.  
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    TtfnJohn (profile), Jun 4th, 2010 @ 7:15pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    You're very good at deflecting issues by making false comparisons.

    I doubt very much that Mike was driving at the notion that astronomy and journalism are equivalent in how they get paid and function just that one tolerates, indeed encourages amateurism and the other has fits about it. The point Mike was making is that journalism could profit from taking on the same attitude as astronomy. That you disagree is obvious and you're entitled to that without deflecting the argument in to how each profession is funded.

    You do, however, illustrate a little ignorance at the craft of the journalist, as many do, by ignoring the paid amateurs already in their midst. These are people known in the profession as stringers. Some maybe grads of journalism schools, most aren't but their job, should you wish to call it that, is to cover, on call, events happening in the small centre where they live for the metropolitan newspaper or broadcaster until such decide the story is important enough to send in a full time, more expensive, reporter. Some, in fact many, stringers work for free in the hopes they'll be hired on one day. Some are. These are people paid, when they are, on word count, meaning the word count of the published or broadcast story almost always a heavily edited version of what the stringer sends in.

    Another interesting factoid is that the disconnect between journalism and the public began at some point in the 1970s when the craft became fully professionalized, that is that a person could no longer work their way up to becoming a reporter internally. The only way you could get a job beginning in the mid 70s was the be a university grad. Something that didn't exist before. Prior to that reporters and journalists were "one of us" and that too made them more trustworthy to the public in general. It also marked the emergence of large chains of papers run by "remote" control from a headquarters far from the publication location. The local daily had completely ceased to be "one of us" it had become this professionalized, remote money machine run for the profit of someone far away. (Good capitalism but bad for trust in the resulting journalism.)

    The next thing that happened was the advent of the 24 hour news cycle during the Gulf War. It suddenly seemed that it mattered less that the news organization had something vital to report but that it had something to report at all. Facts no longer seemed so important, what was important was breaking news which, by it's very nature isn't well fact checked if at all. In wars that's doable and, perhaps, necessary.

    In , most other places it is not. What we've seen is the old saw of "if it bleeds it leads" rise to prominence again and the rise of tabloid style journalism. More recently tabloid journalism it self has come into fashion.

    As a consumer of journalism I'm supposed to like this stuff?

    The Web's answer to this, however imperfectly, has been the citizen journalist, the blogger and the person posting YouTube amateur videos minutes or hours ahead of any major media company. No, these people aren't trained journalists, most often lack or aren't interested in journalism degrees and a lot of the time aren't even paid for what they do. But they are local to the area they're covering. They're one of us.

    Honestly one of us in ways that major media is not nor can it be any longer. (Mainstream media, incidentally includes those with huge audiences who pretend they aren't mainstream media. They are. Just as much as CBS,NBC,ABC,CNN,MSNBC,FOX, The New York Times, The Washington Post and others are.) Major media is no longer local nor does it give a damn about local.

    The reality is one needs the other, though. The amateur, who may not be an amateur at all other than being called that, slaving away on his/her web site or blog is needed by big media much more than big media needs him or her. Big or mainstream media needs these people to reconnect with the populace, the target of all those ads they print or broadcast.

    Sound a lot the the professional and amateur astronomers? Different reasons perhaps but the same outcome.

     

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  40.  
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    TtfnJohn (profile), Jun 4th, 2010 @ 7:34pm

    Re:

    "Interestingly, at least in the U.S., even these high-stakes professions are self-regulating. Doctors regulate doctors. Lawyers regulate lawyers. Journalists regulate journalists."

    I'd love to see you point me at regulatory body for journalists that can censure journalists with the same force that doctors and lawyers can be censured and even forced out of the profession. I can assure you that it doesn't exist.

    I'm glad you have this idyllic view of journalism. As one who has practised the craft I can tell you that your view has little or nothing to do with the reality of what journalists do.

    The entire notion of professionalism is an outgrowth of a 1960s movement to make a craft into a profession requiring a 4 year university certificate. A degree no more guarantees professionalism than does a tissue paper but it does provide, I suppose, some notion of what the journalist is supposed to write, how to write it and how to present it. It's supposed to provide some ethics training as well but then our society has long since agreed on the ethics of the press which is simply telling the story completely and accurately and from a position of knowledge and in that current journalism fails miserably.

    Prior to this time where journalism proudly calls itself a profession people were trained in house and had similar ethics pounded into them through experience on the job it self. A far better training ground than any classroom I can think of. In short they were all amateurs, or, at least, started that way.

    Personally I'd be insulted if I were a doctor or lawyer and saw a comment putting reporters on the same level of high risk professions as they are.

    It's nice to see you buy the journalism school's self serving myths around the craft rather than the reality of it. Next time you read a science story or hear one on TV remember that the odds are immense that the last time the journalist set foot in a science class was somewhere around Grade 8. Maybe.

     

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  41.  
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    TtfnJohn (profile), Jun 4th, 2010 @ 8:11pm

    Re:

    "They're only panicing because they think that celebrity gossip, fearmongering and biased articles and reprinted AP feeds are "journalism". Anyone can do that, hence the fear."

    So why, then. are they following the herd doing it all themselves too instead of relying on rip and read from AP?

     

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  42.  
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    DNY (profile), Jun 4th, 2010 @ 8:31pm

    Science v. ideology

    I suspect the real root of the difference is that astronomers are scientists, and as such have an actual commitment to objective truth, while journalists aren't, and probably went through some postmodern critique of objective truth that asserted all truth claims are based on power relations while getting the Journalism or English degrees.

    Journalism is about controlling access to information--always has been from the days when newspapers with names ending in "Democrat" or "Republican" were telling you which party they were controlling access to information on behalf of. Participatory journalism makes such control impossible.

     

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  43.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jun 5th, 2010 @ 9:16am

    Another idea regarding your techdirt saves journalism in the case of handing out brochures for political parties to those without a convenient Internet connection is that you can have a wireless router connected to your laptop (with security measures of course to prevent hacking) that doesn't give anyone an Internet connection but allows anyone close to the wireless router to connect to your laptop and load a generic webpage that enables them to download all sorts of content (video/audio/documents/pictures/podcasts) onto their laptop and watch/read/listen to it.

     

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  44.  
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    Wesley Parish (profile), Jun 6th, 2010 @ 4:01am

    Not the only area

    There's a subset of pilots who design and/or build their own aircraft. Occasionally one or two get a reputation quite outside the Amateur/Experimental aircraft field, and then people are amazed and wonder. They don't threaten the big commercial manufacturers, they just get on with what fascinates them, and even - as Bert Rutan can no doubt inform you - make progress in areas and in ways that the big commercial manufacturers have been blind to for ages.

    That said, in astronomy there's a symbiotic relationship between amateur and academic, just as there is between the Amateur/Experimental Aircraft designers and builders, and the big commercial manufacturers. Journalists have yet to see it in those terms, it would appear.

     

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  45.  
    identicon
    Darryl, Jun 7th, 2010 @ 7:24am

    As has been said, Journalism is subjective, Science... Objective.

    It is really very simple, Journalism is a subjective pursuit and Science is factual, or objective.

    If you submit, an Astronomical observation, then the information you submit is beyond any subjectivity and is just pure facts.

    Journalism on the other hand can be unethical, and highly subjective, to just wrong and including outright lies. Opinion is not facts, and journalists, professional journalists work under specific rules, morals, and codes of ethics. Like not naming minors, fact checking, and unbiased reporting.
    Just as an Amateur astronomer would check his facts, and provide 100% unbiased data. And no observation or experiment is done in isolation, all amateur work will and is strictly peer reviewed by professionals, that does not take anything away from the achievements or discoveries or contribution that Amateur astronomers do, but everything in science is repeatable (or should be), and is highly peer reviewed.

    Amateur Journalism, is not like amateur science, most if not all bloggers, or amateur journo's have an axe to grind, they all ready have clear predefined biases, and specific outcomes they want to achieve, or an opinion to express.

    How many amateur journalists actually go out and do interviews, does real investigative reporting, get second sources, confirm facts and report in a 100% factual, and unbiased way?
    Not very many at all I would say, that is the total opposite to the Amateur Astronomer who actually makes observations, and reports exactly their findings, and not their opinions.

    That is the scientific way, and I can fully understand how professional and ethical journalists would be upset seeing the huge mass of tripe, and biased opinion and speculation that purports to be 'journalism'.
    And not just some angry person venting against all the ill he see's in the world. And that how his blog is going to change the world for the better.

    Instead of just giving us facts, and factual information and letting us interpret the data, instead of being spoon fed opinion.

     

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  46.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 20th, 2010 @ 5:31am

    Re: Really?

    Why do we need journalists? We need them to "Create" the news. Excuse me while I choke on on bile.

    "He's writing advertising copy because he can't survive creating real news."

    If said journalist is the best and the brightest, he will survive as a writer/journalist. If he can make a living writing Ad copy, wonderful... otherwise we'll see him at the drive though at Micky D's.

    It's a cruel world.

     

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  47.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jul 20th, 2010 @ 5:51am

    Re: Inflated Ego

    To compare the average working journalist to a Medical Doctor or and Astronomer is to compare a bottle rocket to the space shuttle. Write the ad copy. "Advertisements... contain the only truths to be relied on in a newspaper."~Thomas Jefferson

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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