Did you drive to work today? If so, you’re probably an amateur driver, with only slight accreditation to operate a complex, heavy, and powerful machine.
You drive as an amateur in the midst of professional drivers — truckers, taxi drivers, chauffeurs, bus drivers, and police. Yet you probably feel as capable as these other drivers, and might even justifiably dispute the skills of some of the professional drivers you encounter.
Clay Shirky thinks this is analogous to the model for journalism in the future.
In a recent post on Cato Unbound, Shirky reminds us that journalism is a two-way street, so to speak — it isn’t only about assembling the facts and narrative of the news, it’s also about “assembling a public to read and react to those stories.”
The upheaval in journalism Shirky describes comes on many fronts — the subsidy model publishers have relied upon is upset since the bottleneck of print is disrupted; the public captured by the bottlenecks of print manufacturing and distribution has been released; and the role of the professional is shifting, from doing it all to doing some specialized function in the midst of a host of amateurs, some of whom are highly skilled.
Which brings us back to driving:
Like driving, journalism is not a profession — no degree or certification is required to practice it, and training often comes after hiring — and it is increasingly being transformed into an activity, open to all, sometimes done well, sometimes badly, but at a volume that simply cannot be supported by a small group of full-time workers. The journalistic models that will excel in the next few years will rely on new forms of creation, some of which will be done by professionals, some by amateurs, some by crowds, and some by machines.
As the audience gains access to communication tools and confidence in using them, self-assembling publics, a blend of professional and amateur content, and a labyrinthine set of routes through that information will emerge.
The lesson for publishers and information specialists? New rules of the road are being written every day.