Nearly a month ago when Jeff Jarvis suggested in a post on his Buzzmachine blog headed “The death of the editorialist” that leader writers were not needed in an “age of open media”, I disagreed with him. Today he returns to the subject in his New Media column in Media Guardian.
In this age of open media, when every voice and viewpoint can be heard, when news is analysed and overanalysed, and when we certainly suffer no shortage of opinion, do we still need newspaper leaders and the people who write them? I say no. Or at least, I say, they should join their colleagues in the newsroom in a radical re-examination of their roles in journalism.
He wants the leader writers to become “moderators and enablers of the democratic discussion, no matter where it occurs: in newspapers, on blogs, on television, and now on internet talk-shows like the conservative network 18 Doughty Street”.
Coming from Jarvis, an apostle of journalistic revolution through what many call “citizen journalism” and he has renamed “networked journalism”, this argument is no surprise.
When he writes about America, “where journalists insist that they are objective and that they and their institutions have no point of view,” you begin to see a divide opening up between the two sides of the Atlantic. You just have to look at Martin Newland writing about “editorial ethos” (my previous post) on the facing page, to see the difference.
Newland makes the case for a clear editorial policy. Jarvis rejects it in favour of “the voice of the people”.
Yes, I believe newspapers, in print or on the web, have to have a clear identity. Leaders and the process by which they are written is an essential part of creating that identity. The alternative is homogenised or, as Newland puts it “little more than a wire service” with columnists attached.