My Nov. 4th Chapel Hill News column was kind of choppy this week. I guess one of the “nots” I can add to the list is a paragon of brevity. Some folks use the term “citizen journalist” to describe what I’m doing on CitizenWill – a description that hasn’t quite jelled into a term of art.

Whatever I’m doing, both the ACLU and Electronic Frontier Foundation are working hard to protect my right to do it, please consider
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I am not a journalist.

Sure, I’ve written guest columns for the Herald Sun, the Daily Tar Heel, and now, full circle, for the Chapel Hill News. But that does not make me a journalist.

Self-published, some of my online work falls under the rubric of “citizen journalist.” Yet that loosely applied classification carries little gravitas in the world of politics and governance.

My ruminations require primary research, occasional interviews, analysis – behaviors associated with trained journalists. But my posts, though sometimes grist for the news, lack the institutional news outlet imprimatur.

And, always, I bring my acknowledged point of view. Not crafted by publishers, editors, advertisers, media marketers — my interests and passion dictate my content.

At Greensboro’s recent unconference ConvergeSouth, professional journalists, online activists, performers and readers, discussed the current consequences of new media enterprises — the corrosive, even subversive, effects of the personal printing press on the venerable Fourth Estate – and speculated on what is yet to come.

Though the popularity of a faux 15-year-old on youTube belie the value of genuineness and trustworthiness, authenticity in voice and interest is accepted as the most valuable coin of the new media realm.

Authenticity derives from sticking to one’s true voice and inviting true discourse. Traditional media attempts to cover “all the news that’s fit to print” in what is often a pretense of even-handedness. I can openly advocate and focus on issues that genuinely interest me and, though consequential to many within our community, of interest to few others.

One post — “North Carolina Justice: Law & Order or CSI?” — continues to flourish as a steady trickle of new readers discover my comments on mandatory testing of possibly exculpatory DNA evidence in capital cases. Whether they stumbled onto my site looking for the particulars of the Jerry Conner case or this week’s television schedule, I can measure their interest.

As serendipity continues to guide folks to my articles, time and the equalizing force of the “long tail” promise a measurably steady audience for my highly localized content. Somewhere along the line, I hope, a few of my thoughts will contribute to our community’s future conversation.

On the other hand, my columns are messages in bottles, tossed into a sea of thousands of readers. Cast in amber weeks before publishing, the ability to revise, refine, elaborate, debate doesn’t exist.

The technology of my personal printing press makes the measurement of audience attention, “eyeballs” in marketing slang, trivial. A recent rare review of audience metrics revealed significant interest in posts on this year’s Superior Court race, condemnation of the districting referendum, the town’s redevelopment project and the trip of community notables to Madison, Wis. (“Madison Smoozefest: Aaron Nelson’s ‘Phone Call’”).

Is it critical to know that 137 folks paused to read my thoughts on Greensboro’s police chief debacle? Helpful in allocating my time, otherwise a distraction. I’ll continue to write believing my audience would comfortably fit inside a mini Cooper.

Is authenticity, sustained interest and measurable audience important to traditional media?

I hope so, though quite a few local news outlets continue to make key missteps.

Squandering an opportunity to enlist the community in strengthening their operations, some continue to discourage feedback and commentary.

Discounting their responsibility as keeper of our community’s narrative, from who won the local pie-eating contest to who won the Council race, their current business model commoditizes our story and tries to sell it to us over and over. As transient links age out, bits and pieces of our shared history slide behind an archival paywall. Selfish? Yes. Bad business? Definitely. This short-sighted strategy discourages my steering attention (customers) their way.

Why adopt policies counter to their survival? At ConvergeSouth, former broadcaster, reporter, editor Doug Fisher suggested that newspapers are “mired in their legacy as manufacturing operations in a world where news is now a service, not a product.”

He counseled a reorientation of existing news providers’ goal of dispensing news product to that of a partnering service provider to the wider community.

Doc Searls’ Clue Train Manifesto opens with this challenge: “We are not seats or eyeballs or end users or consumers. We are human beings – and our reach exceeds our grasp. Deal with it.”

I want to strengthen our local press. I want to contribute to their success. But I will no longer be a passive consumer of their end-product.

Yes, I am not a journalist. And that is fine.

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