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. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Jun 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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