Quote of the day: My readers know more than I do

“My guiding principles in journalism are the usual ones. I believe in getting it right, being fair, shining lights on things that are hidden when they affect the public good, etc. But I have developed another guiding principle in the way I do this craft.

My readers know more than I do. And if we can all take advantage of that, in the best sense of the expression, we will all be better informed.”
Dan Gillmor, former Merc columnist, author
We Media, founder, Grassroots Media

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  1. Randy says:

    I’m again reminded of the passage in one of the late Harry Kemelman’s Rabbi Small mysteries. Rabbi Small is teaching a course in Jewish thought at a local community college, and as he commences a lecture, the students protest that they would prefer a class discussion. Puzzled, the rabbi wonders why they propose to discuss before they have learned, and the chorus of replies exalts their opinions and feelings over facts and objectivity. The rabbi chides them, “So, by combining your ignorance, you think that somehow you will achieve wisdom?”
    The assumption that bloggers know more than profesional journalists is, at best, misguided. The assumption that bloggers, even when they do possess superior information, will be prodded by the same motivations or restricted by the same standards of care ostensibly required of the objective journalist, is wishful thinking. The idea that a network of links is superior to a network of live sources is perhaps less misguided, and it certainly points to a new way to find and nurture sources of information. The conclusion that one’s readers know more than the writer does is not a starting point for the ascendancy of blogs; it’s a clear indication that the writer should shut up until he is convinced that he DOES know more than his readers, because that is what he is PAID to do.
    But the sad fact is that since what used to be journalism, focused on fact, is now more universally propaganda, focused on a political or moral bias, often readers, with clearer moral visions and fewer axes to grind, DO know more than the sloganeers and poseurs occupying the seats of reporters and editors. The lesson should be not to abandon supremacy to the involved mass of bloggers, but to reclaim journalistic standards and methods, and redraw the once-bright line between reporting and advocacy, between fact and editorial.

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