Jean-François Fogel has the best description I have heard of the new relationship between journalists and the public in the world of digital media.
Simply put, only the public can decide whose work deserves the respect and attention we previously gave to journalists working at major media. It is the public who decides if a particular voice among the billions on the Internet has the credibility, ethics and independence that we expect from journalists.
Really, any person who publishes on the web and follows the standards of professional journalism can be considered a journalist, Fogel said in an interview. And what are those standards?
"Journalism is, of course, a disinterested voice. It isn't a voice that urges the purchase of something or a vote for someone or a particular behavior. It's an independent voice that can't be tied to an association, a brand or an organization. It's a responsible voice that expresses itself about things that are relevant to a society. In the world of digital journalism, a journalist is a person who speaks from an ethical point of view."
Fogel has a long history in France, Spain and Latin America as a journalist, essayist and now digital journalism consultant. He spoke last week at a conference where I was also a presenter, el Congreso Internacional de Periodismo Digital y Redes Sociales in Cancun, Mexico.
Digital media undermine mainstream
The rising importance of new digital media and bloggers has undermined the authority of traditional media, he said. These new competitors often have no journalism training or status in the profession, but they have been stealing the audience and undermining the authority of traditional media.
How? They have been doing the job of journalism better, in many cases, than the supposed professionals. Some bloggers and digital journalists follow standards of investigation and verfication more rigorous than the professionals, and the public has noticed. There are many cases of bloggers beating the professionals on major stories.
"It isn't the journalist who can shout, 'Listen to me, I'm a journalist'," Fogel said. "It's the audience that has to recognize that this public expression by this person is the voice of a journalist. It is the audience that has to say, 'This is not advertising, this isn't art, this isn't educational material, this isn't propaganda, this isn't technical information -- this is journalism.
"The only way for journalists to distinguish themselves is by their voice. Their way of expressing themselves must be recognized by the public as being of a journalistic character."
Everyone has journalism tools, skills
It used to be, Fogel said, that journalists could be distinguished from the general public because they used certain tools (videocameras, voice recorders, computerized publishing platforms, broadcasting equipment) that no one else had access to. Now the general public can use all these tools and publish their own material without having to pass through the filter of a news organization.
Two examples of the new wave were co-presenters at the conference: a video blogger, Chumel Torres, and a Twitter personality who goes by the name of Callodehacha. Both of them specialize in dark humor and satire much in the manner of Jon Stewart's The Daily Show.
Both of them talked about how they viewed independence, truthfulness and transparency as part of their standards. They do not report rumors and do not take payoffs to promote certain points of view or political parties.
Fogel said of them, "They are journalists who specialize in the journalism of opinion. They are in the vanguard. Their form of expression is of a kind that is recognized by all the journalistic codes and media. They have mastered all the journalistic techniques and they are doing it with great talent, obviously."
In business, the customer is always right. In the world of digital media the public has the last word.
This post originally appeared on the blog News Entrepreneurs. It is published on IJNet with the author's permission.
James Breiner is a consultant in online journalism and leadership. He is a former co-director of the Global Business Journalism Program at Tsinghua University and a former Knight International Journalism Fellow who launched and directed the Center for Digital Journalism at the University of Guadalajara. He is bilingual in Spanish and English. You can follow him on Twitter here.
Image CC-licensed on Flickr via ubarchives.