The Gift of Journalism?

October 26, 2006 at 10:29 pm 4 comments


Jay Rosen’s combines the ancient law of reciprocity with new insights on the wisdom of crowds to create a would-be, should-be gift economy for news.

In theory, it’s thrilling with possibility.

Why yes, it would be wonderful to harness the free labor of smart people to build and publish stories that would otherwise go untold. And yes, it is great to change the game if only to scrape the rust from journalistic technique. As Rosen puts it, “Our only goal is to spark innovation in social network reporting.”

But, as anyone who’s ever sat in a meeting full of smart people knows, diffusion of responsibility coupled with diversity of opinion leads to Nowheresville.

Further, Rosen admits that his enterprise will likely not [initially] take on issues susceptible to controversy and concomitant litigation. His examples of projects like “environmental stories” or surveys on how “family-friendly” corporations really behave are interesting, but not news-quaking.

And so, we must return to the prickly law of reciprocity which rules every gift economy.

Rosen finds inspiration in Mozilla Firefox’s open-source construction. Every user contributing a good fix may expect to later enjoy a better browser.

If one gives time and talents to, what can one expect in return?

  • Cuddly feelings arising from industry and service.
  • Bylines or other proof of skills which may be exchanged for cash/leverage elsewhere.
  • Um…

What seems to be missing from the equation is an evangelical zeal to tackle a big bastard of a story that, if told, would CHANGE THE COURSE OF HISTORY.

Rosen is to be applauded for birthing a potential prodigy, but to be discouraged from killing the babe in its crib with middling aspirations.

The law of reciprocity for gift economy journalism demands that contributed work will lead to results. Controversy. Change.

If one gives time to a soup kitchen, one knows that Bob didn’t go hungry this night.

If one gives talents to a community garden in May, one can anticipate a mighty veggie chili will be on offer sometime in August.

If expects fantastic feeds into its project pipeline, it must feed reasonable people a reasonable expectation that their perspicacious perspiration will pay off.

And pay back with action.

Entry filed under: Uncategorized.

Hate the sin; love the sinner Journalists as accomplices to theft?

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Jeff Jarvis  |  October 27, 2006 at 9:01 pm

    Wonderful post and even more wonderful point: If journalism is not about changing and improving the world, then what is the promise?

  • 2. Kate Pastor  |  October 28, 2006 at 2:01 pm

    Joy, you hit the mark. That’s exactly the dilemma. And here’s another one… people who feel most underserved by the news, people who might see the prospect of having even a simple story from their community brought into public view as something worthy of a little footwork, will be less likely to have the time or the appetite for unpaid work. Furthermore, this group is less likely to revel in the reward of their story’s publication through a medium that is still restricted to those with home computers and internet access.

    So even a story that might be less controversial but would still serve a public good— like one about there being no supermarkets in, say, Washington Heights, would lose its impact if it’s not read by the people in that community.

  • 3. Joy Bergmann  |  October 28, 2006 at 7:45 pm

    Excellent addendum, Miss P. Thanks.

  • […] I’m upset at some of my classmate’s overzealous support of this project. Other’s are rightfully and constructively skeptical. Leave the belligerent grumbling and incoherent gut-answers to me. […]


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