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Journalists' Reluctance to Engage with New Media

The final day at ASMC14 starts with Chris Anderson, who begins with noting the strange, halting, and unexpected adoption of new digital tools in journalism; there has been treat reluctance to engage with some technologies, while others have been adopted much more quickly. For example, the New York Times has one of the best data journalism operations in the business, but on the other hand only began to hyperlink to other sites about a year ago – why this strange imbalance?

This likely has something to do with professional culture and attitudes in journalism, deeply embedded with journalists' own understanding of how they maintain their cultural authority. Journalism arises from the valorisation of a socially odd form of work, and from a particular vision of the public. This interacts in complex ways with the organisational routines in journalistic practice. The current crisis of news, then, is one of management, economics, and technology, but also of culture, authority and professional identity.

Chris approached this issue by examining in detail the local news ecosystem in Philadelphia: he discovered that journalists believed that their primary duty was to engage in original reporting. This is the unique and unusual thing that journalists felt they did, and this journalistic idea is challenged by new digital technologies and the US West Coast ethos behind them. This tension is a tension between a journalistic notion of information as scarce, hidden, and needing to be discovered, versus a vision of information as abundant, everywhere, easy to find, and in need of synthesis.

The second aspect has always also been part of journalistic practice, but has never been seen as the core element of journalistic work – and the idea that information is already out there and 'only' needs to be centralised is deeply alien to journalistic understandings of the world. This tension emerges especially around material that had already been produced by others – hence the conventional reluctance of journalists to engage with blogs and Twitter, where they would often engage with other people' snows rather than just publishing their own.

But what if in newsrooms a competing value would lie in synthesising already existing, already discoverable torrents of information? This is the approach of data journalism, of course – is it original reporting in the way it had previously been valorised; is digital synthesis of this form compatible with the larger conception of the role of journalism?