How to thrive in 2005
I was going to write a column about trends to expect in 2005, then decided not to bother. If you haven't already read at least one column predicting what's hot in 2005, chances are you're not looking to read one.
Without sounding too world-weary I hope, may I gently suggest that in 2005 we're all going to struggle with the same set of challenges this year that we've faced every January: threats to survival (think tsunami if you live in view of the ocean, terrorist strikes and war no matter where you live, and a range of horrors that can happen anywhere) and everything else.
Closer to our Silicon Valley home, by now we all know that blogs are the next big thing, online shopping and advertising are booming, traditional media are under pressure, and competition in technology business is fiercer than ever. These trends, with facts and figures to support them, have dominated technology business news so far this week and the weeks since before I went on holiday...and have done so for years.
I just re-read an article I wrote in 1999, "The Journalist of the Future," and was pleasantly surprised to see how, despite a headline that just begged to be ridiculed as soon as it was published, I managed to get a few things right.
Online shopping and advertising were booming back then - according virtually every technology business publication, as judged within the context of then-current expectations. Since that time, a small pie has gotten a lot larger.
I also asked, "In a Matt Drudge world where anybody can publish a Web page and disseminate information by e-mail, where journalists join lawyers and politicians as the professionals least trusted by the public, do we even need professional journalists anymore?"
In the world of overheated blogger expectations, that question has been answered with a resounding Yes.
Professional journalists are beginning to see the light, too, with an avant-garde boldly coming out in favor of blogs...as long as bloggers follow professional journalistic practices and ethics.
A kind of "damn the contradictions, full speed ahead" approach, if you stop to think about it.
Battle-hardened and cynical as I was back in '99, even I didn't expect that professional journalists could fall any lower in public opinion. Media coverage of the recent U.S. Presidential campaign, election, and vote count aftermath disabused me of that notion.
But, I did forsee the current discussion regarding the blogosphere's encroachment on mainstream media turf:
To the extent that non-professional Internet publishers fail to gain this trust, by proving themselves reliable over time, they will remain marginalized, mere bits and bubbles in the Internet's digital flood. They will pose no threat to professional journalists.
To the extent that non-professionals acquire the skills and follow the processes that distinguish reliable, professional journalists and publications, the non-professionals will tend to become in many ways indistinguishable from professional journalists. The emergence of trusted Web-based publications created by people without formal training as journalists but who have acquired solid journalistic tools and skills illustrates this convergence.
One can't miss observation is that in 2005 corporations, governments, other institutions, and individuals will find ways to use the Web as they use the rest of the media: to transmit propaganda to their target audiences, earn profits, and otherwise implement their agendas.
Still up in the air: will the new wave of "citizen journalists" now flogging their blogs avoid the pitfalls that eroded trust in their professional predecessors?
Clue: the biggest pitfall is unquestioning acceptance of propaganda from leaders and authorities (including company executives and even alpha bloggers) and the subsequent repetition of said propaganda without sufficient research and reporting to put it in proper perspective or to correct any mistakes or untruths it might contain.
That's what put professional journalists in a position to be ridiculed and scorned by bloggers.
That's what threatens to put bloggers (or "citizen journalists" or whatever you want to call them) in the same position today, if they continue to pass along unsubstantiated rumors, misinformation, and paid marketing pitches without disclosing them as such.
The alternative? We can use our newfound power to truthfully tell the stories we want to tell, whether they be about politics, or the arts, or about how to survive the vicissitudes of moving forward one day at a time in Silicon Valley dealing with the tools, personalities, and organizations that set the boundaries for our professional lives. If we have to transmit propaganda - face it, that's what most of us do in our day jobs, whether we write anything online or not - we can be honest and call it what it is.
I was pleased to see the progress we've made in living out some of the promise I wrote about in 1999.
Here's hoping I'll feel the same a year from now when I look back at this column.
The Journalist of the Future by Doug Millison, 19 August 1999
What's the story? Doug Millison also edits OnlineJournalist.org, "on a need-to-know basis"