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


    "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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