In the past decade, citizen journalists have proven themselves an integral part of the media landscape and their contributions to breaking stories, raising awareness of neglected issues and promoting dialogue within the Jewish community are self-evident. This is why JTA routinely cites bloggers in its coverage and why JTA recently launched its own blog aggregator to highlight Jewish bloggers’ content. JTA’s own reporters have also embraced blogging and Twittering — our blogs are actually our top-viewed content — and our organization has moved beyond paying mere lip service to citizen media by actually launching a Jewish social news site and user generated content (UGC) channel.
I will therefore be the first to admit that Friday’s fundraising letter was ill-advised and regrettable. The characterization of bloggers and Twitterers as "non-professional" and unreliable was not only counterproductive but arguably false. Worse yet, by seemingly attacking the blogosphere and Twittersphere, JTA has turned itself into a straw man in the battle between old and new media.
And maybe we deserve it. That the sentence was even considered in the first place is enough to redden my cheeks. But, as new media professionals hyperventilate in offense (no doubt, I was the first to reach for my paper bag), let the underlying point of Friday’s letter not be lost.
JTA’s goal was not to besmirch nor undermine the credibility of new media professionals or amateurs. Indeed, my efforts here for the last year and a half in developing JTA’s UGC assets should be testament enough to that fact. Rather, the organization’s intent was to express its belief — and one that I share — that without traditional media to provide primary coverage, aggregators such as blogs will have little worth aggregating and digesting.
We may kid ourselves otherwise, but following all the Jewish Twitterers in the world will never satisfactorily replace competent in-depth reporting and analysis by credible and professional journalists, whether reporting from a war zone or our own back yards. We clearly need autonomous voices — they are as important to the process as we are, providing a check-and-balance on traditional media. However, few individuals can attain the means to devote themselves to providing in-depth coverage without institutional support and the legitimacy which grants access to sources. That’s what makes JTA so important and worthy of your support.
More so, without traditional media enterprises to provide jobs and credibility to authors, in the long run bloggers will have fewer incentives to produce quality material. Let’s be honest: For writers, blogging and Twittering are rarely ends unto themselves. They’re the means to expand one’s reach and grow one’s reputation so that one can land better paying gigs. When first-tier publishers go belly up and all that’s left are second-tier aggregators that crib others’ content, who’s going to pay writers to write? Every day more of the bloggers you know and love are openly pleading for freelance work, while the publishers they rely on are scaling back coverage or shuttering their doors all together. Can independent journalists honestly expect to pay the bills with Adsense revenue alone? What then will become of quality journalism?
Clay Shirky says that the old systems will break "before new systems are in place." But that’s going to mean a whole lot of waiting around for new systems to emerge while a lot of journalists go hungry and Jews go uninformed into an uncertain future.
That’s not an inevitability JTA is eager to accept, whether we articulate that adequately in our fundraising pitches or not.