The other day at a conference in California Ethan Zuckerman was asked whether editors (as in newspaper and television editors) were still relevant in these days of participative journalism. He offered the best answer I've heard so far on that question: "Don''t speak. Point!" By which he meant: the days of journalists and editors "speaking on behalf of people" or "speaking to people" are over. "Point to people and get out of the way", he said. Lucy Hooberman from MentoringWorldwide, who took notes on the panel, translated that into: the future is about journalists and editors as facilitators, as the guy at the center of the crossing directing traffic (I'm quite sure that her point of view is informed by her work in media innovation at the BBC).
I couldn't agree more with both Lucy and Ethan. That's something I've been arguing for almost ten years now, starting with an essay I wrote in November 1997 in the peer-reviewed online journal FirstMonday:
Facts and information can circulate without interference and without the journalist acting as a filter. He will have to give up part of the power he used to have - based on his competence as well as on his position. The role of the journalist is changing into a more central figure, a mediator. He directs traffic, explores, becomes a facilitator of discussions. His new power will depend on his ability to animate a group of people, to develop methods and means to enliven the community, to organize information-gathering and -use with the participation of the members of the community.