Friday, March 17, 2006
Editor's weblog: Is the role of editors more or less important in the digital age?
Friday, March 17, 2006
Posted by John Burke on March 17, 2006 at 05:41 PM
Is the role of editors more or less important in the digital age?
There is a serious predicament facing that century-tested bastion of journalism, the people who decide what the public should know, the ultimate conventional gatekeepers; news editors. Some believe that editors are more necessary than ever in sifting through the plethora of information on the Internet. Others feel that online interactivity could replace traditional editors with peer-to-peer suggestions. In these respects, the question is,in the digital world, will editors thrive or will they die?
Former president of CBS News, Andrew Heyward, recently touched upon this topic in a speech at the Poynter Institute. "My view," he opined, is that this complicated world is an even bigger market for editors and journalists who can make sense of it all."
Indeed, in Heyward's opinion, the massive amounts of information at any Internet user's fingertips accompanied by the burgeoning citizen journalism movement has created chaos, a chaos that will be a permanent fixture of the information world: "Side by side, you're going to have professional journalism and citizen-created journalism. Order vs. chaos -- this is a world that is chaotic compared to what we're used to. It's not neat. Get used to it. Chaos is going to co-exist with order in the media world."
In a similar vein, last year new media journalist for the PBS blog MediaShift, Mark Glaser proposed what could become a permanent fixture of newsrooms; the citizen media editor (CME). The roll of the CME, which some purport is already established in several newsrooms (at least in function if not in title), is to pick out the contributions from readers and viewers that are most worthy for public view. In the end, this saves the reader lots of time instead of having to browse through tens or hundreds of contributions before finding one that pleases them. At the same time, this also contradicts the idea of choice that Internet newsreaders so cherish.
This is where the threat to editors from online interactivity comes into play. One facet of this interactivity is "the buzz"; what people are talking about, what theyÿÿre listening to, what they're reading. The problem that some see with the traditional editor in the interactive world is that it's only one person who is deciding what stories get researched and eventually published. Obviously, the decision of one person is not going to appeal to everyone.
But collective decisions, according to some netizens, surely do. Take the blossoming site, Digg.com, which describes itself as a "website that employs non-hierarchical editorial control." Digg is composed of stories submitted by registered users. These stories are then voted on by the registered community. Those that prove popular are bumped up to the front page in a dynamic process that continually changes the articles on the homepage. And of course there is an internal search engine to find stories of more personal, specific interest, stories that have also been voted on so the reader can gauge their popularity with people of like minds.
As of now, Digg focuses on technology. But don't be surprised if in the very near future offshoots emerge on various topics like politics, economics, or dare I say, the future of traditional media.
Topic specific versions of Digg would avoid situations such as that which happened with a newspaper website in Chile where readers were invited to vote on the stories they wanted the paper to follow. The site quickly turned into a celebrity and gossip tabloid. Other newspapers implement such collective opinion tools such as the ever-present most emailed stories sidebar. Or the wikitorial, which may not have lasted long at the Los Angeles Times but is already being revived in South Dakota.
Also, a few newspapers that blog have citizens censor comments and vote on those they feel feed the discussion, pushing those comments to the top. This comment censoring is also seen in other online communities such as Craigslist, where users can flag any postings that may include offensive content. And letÿÿs not forget about the user-edited encyclopedia, Wikipedia. So it seems that the traditional editor has some major competition on the Web in deciding what the public should and shouldnÿÿt see. But even if the interactive collective opinion should triumph over the choice of one editor, other aspects of an editorÿÿs job description become more important: fact checking and the actual editing.
If choice is left up to the masses, the masses are going to seek out the most well-investigated, well-verified, well-written and overall best stories to pass on to their peers. Here in, the job of the editor in guiding the production of quality journalism will be more crucial than ever.
Sources: Poynter, Digg.com
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