The following is an interview with Jay Rosen, a veteran media critic and journalism professor at NYU. Click here to read the original post at The Browser.I know that as journalists we have to adapt rapidly to new ways of doing things, but you’ve really thrown me in at the deep end—you’ve chosen five online articles instead of five books, and we’re doing the interview on Google chat rather than by telephone.
I like to do things differently. For example, using PressThink for longform blogging—which wasn’t the normal thing at the time, in 2003.
Will you give me an overall sense of what you are saying about changes in journalism with the articles you’ve chosen?
Well, first there’s been a shift in power. The users have more than they did because they can publish and connect to one another, not just to the media.
Second, the people formerly known as the audience are configured differently. They are connected horizontally as well as vertically, which is why today we speak of social media. This is what I sometimes call “audience atomisation overcome“.
Third, the media still have power and journalism still matters. In some ways the essence of it has not changed. But a lot of what journalists did became bound up with particular forms of production and distribution. Since the web has radically altered those forms, it has radically changed journalistic work, even though the value of good journalism remains the same – timely, accurate, useful information that tells us what’s happening in our world over the horizon of our personal experience.
Let’s look at the first article you’ve chosen, which dates from May 1999. It’s by Dave Winer, and is titled “Edit This Page.” Can you tell me why it’s on your list? I don’t come from a tech background, so it was quite hard for me to follow.
OK, I will explain why this piece is so important. The summer and fall of 1999 is when blogging software first emerged. Prior to that time, web publishing existed, but you had to know some code to have your own page on the web. There were people doing a kind of proto-blogging, but they were geeks. What Dave Winer is talking about in this piece is how we can make the leap from the “read only” web—a web that most people can only read—to the “read-write web,” a platform where the average person is both an author and a user of stuff others author.
The key moment is in the title: “Edit this Page.” If every page can be easily edited by the users, then the users can be publishers. And the static web gives way to something much more exciting and participatory and social. For example, if we combine the ease of self-publishing with domain expertise—people who know a lot about a given area, like the mortgage industry—what do we get? We get not only niche blogs by experts, but also a different power relationship between them and the professional media. Dave later summarised this as: The sources can go direct. All this was being sketched out in May 1999, before anyone realised what a force blogging and social media would be.
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