The Cyberbrains

Research and contemplation in new media

How to be a rebel (and other myths)

I didn’t come back to graduate school in order to become a rebel. First of all, my hair is a bit missing to recycle the Ramones hairdo, and I never could get the hang of riding a motorcycle. But within two months, I had become a rebel.

I had turned on the establishment.

At the time, way way way back in 2004, my beloved newspaper industry was still spouting the “newspapers are here to stay” mantra. I quickly learned that this was merely a tired song and dance without much behind it. I had known about Craigslist before coming to Missouri, but I did not know how much it was eating into newspaper revenue. Journalists are trained not to think about money. Well, not about the money that drives their own industry at least (we’re GREAT at finding out about other peoples’ money). But a journalist who asks where the revenue is coming from in their own industry, well, that sounds a little too cozy with evil stuff like advertising.

Anyhow, it wasn’t hard to imagine that newspapers were in trouble after learning about how ad revenue was shrinking due to online alternatives. What has shocked me was how quickly it has accelerated. It seems as if now I am reading about cutbacks every week at a different newspaper; editorial always bears the brunt, new media is untouched. Journalists are shocked – shocked! – at these cutbacks, because we’ve had our head in the sand so long we didn’t even notice the painfully obvious signs.

And so I became a rebel here by experimenting with what was then called “open source” journalism, a blend of citizen and professional content. A lot of us on the MyMissourian team have heard the criticism from within the hallowed walls of this, the “greatest journalism school in the galaxy” (according to my one of my favorites here, professor Margaret Duffy). We were told that cit-j is watering down standards and degrading the need for professional journalism by letting (God forbid) anyone have their say.

Three years later, as we start a new year here at Mizzou, I’m feeling a sense of satisfaction that I haven’t been wasting my time trying to figure out what is driving this stuff. I don’t know about the long term viability of cit-j as a money-maker, but we’ve shown an audience that wants to be part of the conversation. And in fact, hearing so many editors at the Missourian talk about conversation with their audience is even more rewarding; not that this is because of us, but I believe our research cohort has been asking questions that have opened this up for discussion in the school at large.

I am not a rebel anymore, though, so my cover of “Bonzo Goes to Bitburg” is going to have to wait a few years. My research interests have gone from the fringe to the mainstream in the past year.

Cit-j was never imagined as a replacement, but rather a method of refinement. Not THE method, but A method. That is a huge distinction. I’ve said it in this blog and another place, but it bears repeating: I have my doubts that citizen journalism as we are doing it now at MyMissourian is viable as a long-term economic model for the industry, let alone as a medium that our audience-writers will stick with. But as with all trends, the critical thing for us to to keep researching the basic reasons driving this particular form of the trend, because that is what has lasting power.

In this case, it’s interaction and conversation. It’s the ability to connect, imagine, and create. It can take a lot of different forms, and our job as researchers is to figure out not only what is driving what’s now, but also what’s next.

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August 25, 2007 - Posted by | Jeremy Littau

1 Comment »

  1. […] How to be a rebel (and other myths). Great post from Jeremy Littau on college media use of citj, which includes this: “I have my doubts that citizen journalism as we are doing it now at MyMissourian is viable as a long-term economic model for the industry, let alone as a medium that our audience-writers will stick with. But as with all trends, the critical thing for us to to keep researching the basic reasons driving this particular form of the trend, because that is what has lasting power.” Hard not to agree, particularly with the last sentence. […]

    Pingback by Notes from a Teacher: Mark on Media » Sunday squibs | August 26, 2007 | Reply


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