Journalists do a lot of things these days. They blog. They shoot video. They collaborate on multimedia projects. They track what other journalists are doing in this age of continuous news.
And academic Jay Rosen says some of them are doing more in his book "What do Journalists Do?" which I recently picked up. It's about the public journalism trend in the early to mid 90's. Very controversial.
The journalists he describes not only cover city hall meetings and investigate corruption, they start non profits, and hold BBQ's, and ask reporters in their newsroom to read John Dewey and Alexis de Tocqueville. Public journalism!
A lot of these efforts fizzled out, although I recently came across some research in a journalism studies journal identifying a few places that still profess to practice public journalism. But in a lot of ways, the web's impact on news organizations has forced them to practice another type of public journalism, participatory journalism. You can see that with iReport on CNN; you can see it on news sites that feature blogs by their reporters and by vetted community members.
This is the battle being fought in professional newsrooms across the country: those who want to preserve the traditional role of the journalist, and those who are curious and want to see where interactivity and participation will lead. As my colleague Art Hughes, formerly a reporter at Minnesota Public Radio, is fond of saying, "There's a room for both."
I agree with him. But the question I would pose - do we need both? That's a different question from, can online journalism pay for itself, but I'm more interested in the existential rather than practical question. But it's a question that Jay Rosen is exploring with his current project, NewAssignment.net. Only time will tell.