Sunday, June 28, 2009

Citizen Journalism: A Force for Leaders to Welcome and Fear

Iran and Michael Jackson have one thing in common: the power of the Internet to report in warp speed the good with the bad. Citizen journalism is here to stay thanks to the Internet. With such transparency, leaders are faced with a demand for openness and transparency not necessarily within their comfort zones. This is a steep learning curve!

All action is local, so the saying goes. Taken further, all living is local whether in an organization or community. And, that is the hardest nut to crack for many top leadership teams and middle managers. Neat and tidy bureaucracy has reached its end. Messiness and chaos are upon us as we invent new ways to make a better world.

TMZ reported the death of Michael Jackson before any TV station or newspaper had wind of the story. Like CNN’s “i-reporters” TMZ locals had their ears to the ground. As in Iran, cell phone photos, Twitter, texting, blogs and the like combined to turn on a furious reporting force that took down websites and slowed down the entire Internet even the almighty Google as it was trying to discern the nature of the “attack”. What’s interesting is that it took the confirmation of the “long of tooth” L.A. Times to validate the claim. So, there is a partnership role for the new with the old!

The upside of citizen journalism is the opportunity to create new and better ways to communicate, collaborate, learn and improve. The disconnect between consumers and organizations narrows as those who wish a product, service or policy change can input and shape at the front end and every step in-between. In many ways, this new partnership enables organizations of any stripe to serve more accurately and readily the needs and wants of customers and citizens.

The downside is formidable. If you are the leader of an entrenched bureaucracy or dictatorship as is the case for a government, citizen journalism upends how you like and want to do business. It’s hard to untangle the red tape, although most enlightened leaders want to do this. But, if you are into power and control, citizen journalism can be down right scary.

We have no choice though to go down this road. Our more complex, highly interconnected world with big brain issues to tackle requires amplification of dialogue, debate and testing out of new ideas in a distributed not a centralized way. This is the advantage of the Internet and all of its linked peripherals.

Serious scholars of decision science know that the emergence of heightened dialogue enabled by the Internet increases the probability of better decisions and better prevention and management of disasters. Although this era in which we live continually morphs like a galloping wild horse, the ride is and will be exhilarating for any and all open-minded leaders and managers.

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