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The Journalists Formerly Known as the Media My Advice to the Next Generation - Jay Rosen Public Notebook

The Journalists Formerly Known as the Media My Advice to the Next Generation - Jay Rosen Public Notebook

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Jay Rosen: Public Notebook
Small pieces from my writing and posting life. Loosely joined.« Back to blogSeptember 6, 2010
The Journalists Formerly Known as the Media: MyAdvice to the Next Generation
This is adapted and expanded from theInaugural LectureI gave to the incoming class at Sciences Po école du journalisme in Paris, September 2, 2010: their first day. You can find reports on the speech in Englishhere; in Frenchhereand here(with some video.) It was given to French students, but it is really intended for anyone studying journalism today, or attempting to re-learn it.
Typically when people like me—a professor of journalism who is deeply involved in thedigital world—advise people like you—students just starting their careers in journalism—we say to you things like:You need to be blogging.You need to understand search engines.You need to know Flash and perhaps HTML5.You need to grasp web metrics like Google analytics.You need to know how to record audio or edit videoYou need to “get” mobile. ("Mobile is going to be big!")And all of those things are true. They are all important. But I want to go in a completelydifferent direction today. Ready? You need to understand that the way you
imagine
the userswill determine how useful a journalist you will be.
A shift in power 
It turns out that the original title I gave myself,
The People Formerly Known as the Audienceand the Audience Properly Known as the Public 
, is a problem, because the word for “publicin French is the same as the word for “audience.” We have to work around that. And to helpI have a clip from a movie I want to show you. It’s from the1976 filmNetwork, which is abouta crazed television newsman named Howard Beale who begins to act out his craziness onthe air. This is probably the most famous scene in the film. (It takes five minutes to watch.)
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What is this scene “about?” In my reading of it, the filmmakers are showing us what themass audience was: a particular way of arranging and connecting people in space. Viewersare connected “up” to the big spectacle, but they are disconnected from one another. Or touse the term I have favored, they are "atomized." (SeeAudience Atomization Overcome.) ButHoward Beale does what no television person ever does: he uses television to tell itsviewers to stop watching television.When they disconnect from TV and go to their windows, they are turning away from BigMedia and turning toward one another. And as their shouts echo across an empty publicsquare they discover just how many other people had been "out there," watching televisionin atomized simultaneity, instead of doing something about the inarticulate rage that Bealeput into words. (“I don’t know what to do about the depression and the inflation and theRussians and the crime in the streets. All I know is that first you’ve got to get mad!”)The reason I showed you this clip is that it makes vivid for us a great event we are livingthrough today: the breakup of the atomized "mass" audience and a shift in power that goeswith it. What would happen today if someone on television did what Howard Bealedid? Immediately people who happened to be watching would alert their followers onTwitter. Someone would post a clip the same day on YouTube. The social networks wouldlight up before the incident was over. Bloggers would be commenting on it well beforeprofessional critics had their chance. The media world today is a shifted space. People areconnected horizontally to one another as effectively as they are connected up to Big Media;and they have the powers of production in their hands.
The public becomes thinkable
This kind of shift has happened before. And now I want to take you back 250 years, to eventsin France and England that gave birth to the modern public.Before there was a public that could be informed by the press, before there was anythinglike “public opinion,” before there was any political journalism at all, politics was consideredthe king's business,
le secret du roi 
. It was owned and operated by the king, and secrecyabout everything that happened in government was the normal state of things. There waspublicity too, but not about what was actually happening in the halls of power. In the wordsof Jürgen Habermas, it was “publicity that is staged for show or manipulation,” rituals inwhich the majesty of the crown and the glory of the nation could be vivified or put ondisplay. Absolutism gave ownership of politics to the crown; and that included virtually allinformation about affairs of state.In 1764, for example, the King of Franceruledit illegal to print or sell or peddle on the streetanything about the reform of state finances—past, present or future. It’s not only that therewas no freedom of the press. That was true, but more than that: The king’s mystery was notconsidered the people’s business. The whole idea that the affairs of the nation belonged tothe people of that nation had yet to be accepted. Without an idea like that (today we wouldcall it "the public’s right to know...") the very practice of journalism is impossible—in fact,unthinkable.But by 1781 Jacques Necker, finance minister to the King of France, hadpublishedthe first
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ever public record of the state’s finances, the C
ompte rendu.
Three thousands copies weresold on the first day. Most historians say he failed to give a true picture of how deeply thecrown was in debt, and that he hid the cost of borrowing. But simply by publishing the
Compte rendu 
Necker helped to raise the curtain on a new idea: public confidence requiredtransparency. Public opinion could not be ignored. There was a public "out there," and evenprinces had to appeal to it.So what happened between 1764 and 1781? The answer to that is complex and worth abook in itself. Fortunately wehave one: Jurgen Habermas’s
Structural Transformation of thePublic Sphere.
Here I will simply list some of the factors responsible for the shift:* The growth and spread of printing, which was bound up with the market for printed books.This meant, for example, that what was illegal to print or sell in France could be publishedin Holland and smuggled in.* The rise of the periodical press. Newspapers and pamphlets—some legal andrestrained, some clandestine and unrestrained in their rhetoric—spread the concept of public discussion of public affairs. This was difficult to contain.* Closely related to that were the literary salons in which discussion of what was readbecame normal, providing a template for public opinion as commentary on what is in thepress. (In England this role was played by taverns and coffee houses.)* The emergence of international capitalism, which created what Habermas called the“carrier class” for the public sphere, the literate bourgeoise: merchants, traders andbusinessman who were not impressed by “publicity staged for show or manipulation,” butwho might buy French debt if they were persuaded that the government could repay it ontime. Necker no doubt had these people in mind when he published his record of statefinances, and when he called public opinion “an invisible power that, without treasury,guard, or army, gives its laws to the city, the court, and even the palace of kings.”* The spread of enlightenment ideas, in which reason was supposed to be sovereign, notthe king and his court. Public opinion, when it was praised by people like Necker, meantreasoned, settled opinion, not the violent swings in mood that frightened so manyaristocrats.* The search for other sources of authority beyond divine right and despotism. Necker worked for the King of France. He was trying to find a way to reform and legitimate thecontinued authority of the crown as it came under increasing attack in the last decades of the
ancien régime
. That is why he called public opinion a “tribunal,” and said “princesthemselves [must] respect it.”This complex shift from one constellation of ideas to another wasput into wordsby thehistorian Keith Michael Baker: “From the public person of the sovereign to the sovereignperson of the public.” Something like that has to happen before journalism can even beconceived. In fact the rise of the periodical press, the emergence of the public as an actor inpolitics, and the power of public opinion such that even princes have to respect it, are not somuch parallel developments as three aspects of the same event. Together, they mademodern journalism thinkable.
The people out of doors
In England during the same period, a similar event occurs. If we could listen in onParliament in 1750 we might hear a phrase in common use then, “the people indoors.” Itreferred to the members of Parliament themselves when they were gathered in session. Inwhat way did this small and elite group represent “the” people of England? Not throughpopular election; that didn’t really happen until the next century. Parliament thought of itself as the people because the King had to consult with Parliament and when he did he wasconsulting with the whole nation.This was a fiction, of course, but it was the ruling fiction at the time. “The people indoors”were quite aware that they were not representative of the whole population. That is why theyalso referred to the people “out of doors,” another phrase in use at the time. This meanteverybody else. The king didn’t have to consult with them. Nor did the people out of doors
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