Rethinking journalism by putting community needs first

Journalists, it is time to rethink your role in life. Jeff Jarvis, journalism professor at City University of New York (CUNY), thinks the business model of mass media is dead. The audience is no longer a mass, but a community. “We need to utterly rethink the essence of what journalism is, what is its relationship to the public, what its value is,” he said.

According to Jarvis, the journalist’s role is not that of a stenographer, but that of a community organiser: journalism is not simply the business of creating content, but that of providing a service. The difference is simple: “Content fills thing. Service accomplishes things,” said Jarvis.

To accomplish things, journalists need to know what issues affect their readers’ communities: “We have to become advocates. If it’s not advocacy it’s not the highest order of journalism,” he said. How to combine advocacy and publisher’s interests, one may ask? The answer is intellectual honesty: “We have to maintain our credibility by admitting when we are wrong,” he recommended.

Servicing a community, however, does not simply mean providing whatever content is most popular, because, as Jarvis said: “If we give people what they want they will get just celebrities, cats and nude people.” Jarvis also advocates for finding a new meter of success in reaching the audience that is not pageview: “Clicks will inevitably lead to cats. If your goal is more clicks you will put more cats. That corrupts journalism,” he explained. According to Jarvis, the success of journalism does not lie in content personalisation, but in relevance, writing about what the community needs over what it wants: “If we reorganised news according to the public needs, I believe we’d get higher engagement and more value.”

To Jarvis, what is most important is that we keep experimenting with the possibilities that new technologies offer, because, as he put it, “We don’t know what the fuck the internet is.” The one thing Jarvis knows for sure is society needs journalism and people need to be informed: “Journalism will bear out. We will find ways.”

In this interview, Jarvis talked about how journalism schools, often heavily criticised as being useless, can be part of that ongoing experimentation.

Watch the full speech here