Training Daze

We hear a lot these days about citizen journalism, people taking media into their own hands to inform and entertain one another or to express themselves. What sorts of training will citizen journalists require and where will they get it? I’ve been thinking about that in light of the conference that will be held in San Antonio the second week in August by the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication.

The Association appears to be populated by college journalism instructors, the same folks who turned out people like me — card-carrying mainstream journalists. A quick look over the conference schedule shows sessions on a gamut of topics ranging from the unique concerns of college professors (there seems to be a panel on the trials and tribulations of a being a dean) to topics more sympatico with this blog (like the session about citizen journalism hosted by New York University professor Jay Rosen).

As we enter new territory, it must be apparent that the old training ways do not necessarily apply, at least not in the forms in which it is now packaged. True, aspiring citizen journalists would be wise to learn the rudiments of libel law, and they would be advised to get a dose of ethics as it applies to communicating ideas. But they are not going to get four year college degrees in order to pick up this knowledge. Are night classes available?

It is also quite likely that some of the current norms will be rejected by these new, grassroots communicators. The elusive notion of objectivity, for instance, would seem alien and contrary to media initiatives that spring from an activist conviction.

Aside from the likelihood that some of today’s journalism values may be, or at least seem, anachronistic, new production skills are certainly required, and it is not clear where these will be taught. Will the technologists of new media come from computer science departments? Or will they be wannabe communicators with the patience to patch together computer code? Or a combination of these and other sources?

Our current training apparatus is geared to graduating content producers who will be plugged into some media enterprise in which everything from the desks to the computer networks to the sales, distribution and paychecks are handled by a hierarchy. Citizen journalism would flatten that hierarchy to one or perhaps a few. So are citizen journalists already media polymaths? Or will they need to acquire new skills and form partnerships to gain the skills they are unlikely to learn?

I wish I had some answers but I’ve just started thinking about these questions, so perhaps you’ll think about it with me and we’ll talk more at some later date.

Tom Abate
‘Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media