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Fear -- and hope -- in Moscow

Submitted by yelvington on February 23, 2006 - 9:36am

Looking over the agenda for the 13th World Editors Forum, which will be held this summer in Moscow, Jeff Jarvis reacts: "I smell fear." Well, I do too. Not everywhere, but in many newsrooms there's a real fear of citizen journalism, ranging from a concern that it will somehow undermine quality and credibility to a paycheck-centered fear that publishers are conspiring to lay off reporters in favor of unpaid citizen labor.

But I will be there telling a tale of hope, not of fear. Opening the process of journalism so that it's participatory, so that we listen more effectively, so that no one is disempowered, so that we genuinely reflect a community in conversation with itself leads to better journalism, higher readership of professionally produced content, and a bond with the community that newspapers have not enjoyed for more than a quarter century.

Earlier this week I was in Orlando at the multifaceted NAA Marketing Conference, which included Connections, the new-media conference. I got a kick out of Clyde Bentley of the University of Missouri -- a temple of big-J journalism if ever there was one -- declaring that editors are poor judges of what's important to real people. How did Clyde discover this? Through the myMissourian.com project, which asked members of the community to write for a weekly TMC product. The information priorities of consumers are sometimes the inverse of the information priorities of editors.

So, who's right? Consumers or editors? I think that if journalists are that far out of phase with the public, a realignment is in order. But it's not going to happen unless professional journalists are willing to open the windows and let in a little fresh air. Be not afraid. It's an opportunity to do better work.