Changing the Language of Journalism Work

So I’m here in Denver at the Journalism That Matters gathering April 3-4, 2013 around the question “What’s possible when old embodiments of journalism die and its spirit is free to take new forms?” Already our conversations today have sparked conversations and questions about
“What is journalism?” “Do we have to have a commercial model?” and “How do we create engagement that is inclusive of our diverse communities?”

We are tearing the fabric of journalism apart to look at new forms, new partnerships and new ways of measuring the impact of what we do as communicators.

One of the main challenges we’ve bumped up against already is the challenge of using old language to describe new forms. I’ve seen this same shift in higher education, where I teach in communications, as we’ve discussed our students as “customers.” When I think of my students as engaged learners, there’s not a whole lot of room to think about the “product” I’m delivering/sharing/coaching in the classroom and what students are “purchasing” as customers. . And measuring the value of that exchange is nearly nonexistent. Our language is insufficient to do more than point.

A similar conversation ensued at #jtmdenver. So does traditional, commercial journalism serve advertisers, community or someone else? What do we mean by engagement? What does a healthy media ecosystem look like?

I believe in the power of language to shape our reality. I believe words can frame the conversation/debate before we even have begun to explore all the possibilities of who we are or can be. So talking about our advertisers as our customers or our readers as audience still does not get at the nuances of how we need to be describing this new news ecology.

User-generated content does not describe engagement, people! It does not get at the participatory, creation and dissemination and conversation processes that are now in play as we find the disintermediation of legacy media that has occurred from technology, new forms and other challenges to our traditional notions.

So we need a new vocabulary for understanding the work that we do and its value to the larger communities that we serve. The beginning of that vocabulary is emerging at JTM in words such as: authenticity, collaborators, community weavers, participation, engagement. It changes in how we measure the impact of what we do from clicks, page views and subscriptions to social capital, happiness indices and the relationships that we help create from the work that we do.

If we are doing our work well…that is creating journalism that helps nurture community engagement in civic discourse, then we need a new language to describe that work. That vocabulary is emerging at #jtmdenver and throughout our Journalism That Matters conversations.

I invite you to help us shape the language that gets us to focus on what’s possible for journalism now.

Changing the Language of Journalism Work

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