One of the subjects that comes up frequently in discussions about today’s blogs is, “Are bloggers journalists?” Clay Shirky, author of “Here Comes Everybody,” explains it through some insightful observations which I’m paraphrasing here (really, you gotta read this book!)
A profession exists to solve a hard problem, one that requires some sort of specialization. Professions exist because there is a scarce resource that requires ongoing management. The scarcity of the resource itself creates the need for a professional class. “The old dictum that freedom of the press exists only for those who own a press points to the significance of the change. To speak online is to publish, and to publish online is to connect with others. With the arrival of globally accessible publishing, freedom of speech is now freedom of the press, and freedom of the press is freedom of assembly.” And that explains why the Chinese government is so paranoid about Google.
For journalists, the resource (access to the means of distributing information, news, opinion) is no longer scarce, so we’re seeing the “mass amateurization” of the profession and a shift in the timing of when content gets edited. To make matters worse, when the resource was limited, an editor’s content editing role was necessary to determine “Why publish this?” Now, the question isn’t why, it has become “Why not?” So where scarcity of the means of distribution previously meant journalism’s function was to filter information before publication, it now means content editing and filtering comes after publication (think Search, Google Alerts, RSS feeds).
Another way Professor Shirky phrases it is, “If everyone can do something, it is no longer rare enough to pay for, even if it is vital.” And that’s the conundrum faced by journalism…and many other professions that were created from the pre-internet world.