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Towards a New Journalism

Following up on an earlier post arguing that photojournalism can now be considered to have belonged to the twentieth century (see also the succeeding posts below on the end of the Gamma photo agency and the New York Times article on photojournalism’s demise), there have been a number of inquiries as to what a new journalism might entail. In writing this post I am not aiming to supply a practical methodology (some of this is in my book After Photography) but rather a larger sense of some of the potentials for a reinvented journalism.

1. Rather than trying to configure the digital platform to fit older media, we need to think of a new terrain of possibility that favors links, layers, a mix (hybrids), asynchronicity, non-linearity, non-locality and the multi-vocal.

2. What this is all leading to is a reinvention of the oral tradition where the group shares insights and comes to mutual decision-making over time, each with input whether as producer, reader, discussant, contextualizer, linker, or some other role. Many will be able to share the traditional journalist’s role, but there will still be a prominent place at the table for the ones who serve as the investigator and witness, as well as the presenter (what we now think of as the professional journalist/editor/art director).

3. A key issue is to engage people in a spiral conversation (one that turns around but eventually leads somewhere), whether the conversation be political, moral, spiritual, psychological, literary or anything deemed by the group to be of importance. We should not, however, aim to simply replace trivial media with more trivial media, no matter how entertaining.

4. At some point we will realize that the digital platform has characteristics in keeping with a quantum universe, in which Newtonian cause and effect are a subset. One still needs to act and act decisively (a person defines himself or herself by their actions, as Sartre said) but with the humility that comes with complexity. In a sense Web 2.0 and its revolt against hierarchies is an acknowledgment of this change in consciousness to the quantum: non-local, non-linear, multiple identities, probablistic, etc. (See Danah Zohar’s 1990 book, The Quantum Self.)

5. Speed is right now being celebrated as part of the digital revolution. Speed will diminish in importance, a key part of efficiency but a lesser part of understanding, as presence, or an acknowledgment of the actual which leads to knowing, becomes primary.

6. The media that one chooses as a means to enhance this understanding can be thought of as “conversational media.” Which kinds of media presentations are best to promote the kinds of conversations that one is hoping for? How should the subjects of the inquiry be involved in the conversation? How should the policy makers and experts? How should the eyewitnesses and the readers? How should you as the journalist (third-person, first-person)?

7. The great challenge here is to deconstruct previous templates so that they not be relied upon to continue the generic typecasting of journalism - famine, flood, bombing, crime wave, accident, power figures, etc. A conversational media will begin with the humanity of the person (the subject), not their social ranking. Rather than being looked at by the journalist, it will be generally better to think of the subject as potentially becoming involved in the conversation. (Martin Buber’s I-Thou vs. I-It is a way to get at these differences.)

8. Lastly, I would suggest that the emphasis be on knowing less but knowing it well. Then whatever future conversations the reader joins there will be real knowledge to share. And if a journalist wants to involve people in solutions to what is being shown, or if they want to involve themselves, then there will be a community of understanding which will be able to not only understand the problems but also have a sense of which of the possible solutions make the most sense and participate on that basis. No more “We Are The World” as a vague fund-raising concept in response to a distant famine, but a larger idea that we are, at the very least, engaged within the world and able to understand and respond to issues with a greater understanding and sense of possibility.

The Web, and in particular Web 2.0, is leading us to what might be called “quantum citizenship,” an engaged set of relationships that overrides the virtual for the actual. We are moving towards the transnational and humanistic, with many intermediate manifestations to emerge and many pragmatic issues to resolve. It is an extraordinarily exciting moment to enter the fray.

One Comment

  1. Thanks for this excellent summary of the key points regarding shifts taking place in communications around social issues. I look forward to getting hold of a copy of your book to see how practically this could work. I agree that there is great potential for creating ‘conversations’ between ’subject’, ‘reader’ and ‘journalist’, and that this could facilitate better understanding of solutions and appropriate roles for each in addressing issues. The ’subject’ is increasingly becoming the producer of content, and a key challenge is how this content is used to maximise its impact within strategies for change? I can see the beginnings of this in social activism but it is at an embryonic stage (currently more a ‘meet & greet’ than a ‘virtuous chain of information and mobilisation’ at local, national and international levels). I come at this from a social activist perspective and can see how ‘voice’ (attained in part via new media) can empower individuals and communities impacted by rights violations, as well as better informing those wishing to be involved in a solution from a distance. The democratisation of communications will need to be supported by genuine participation in decision making and action - which is an organisational challenge. I think there needs to be a balance between ‘The Wisdom of Crowds’ (as put forward by James Surowieiki) and the potential for an overly democratised space to be usurped by interest groups (as put forward by Fareed Zakaria in ‘The Future of Freedom’). Democratisation does not necessarily lead to better representation, and requires the involvement of diverse, independent, informed and numerous voices. The level of peoples understanding and involvement is still going to vary, and although we need to aim at presenting the world more accurately we still need to provide information and opportunities for a variety of audiences to be involved - which may be purely providing funds at one end of the spectrum to dedicated in-depth activism at the other.

    Rob Godden
    The Rights Exposure Project

    Monday, September 7, 2009 at 1:37 am | Permalink

6 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] After Photography › Towards a New Journalism http://www.pixelpress.org/afterphotography/?p=873 – view page – cached Following up on an earlier post arguing that photojournalism can now be considered to have belonged to the twentieth century (see also the succeeding posts below on the end of the Gamma photo agency and the New York Times article on photojournalism’s demise), there have been a number of inquiries as to what a new journalism might entail. In writing this post I am not aiming to supply a practical methodology (some of this is in my book After Photography) but rather a larger sense of some of the potentials for a reinvented journalism. — From the page [...]

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