Deep Throat is Dead – Long Live Communal Journalism

Deep Throat, the most famous informant since Judas, is once again making headlines.

Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the two Washington Post reporters who brought the Watergate scandal to light – and in doing so helped fill the nation’s journalism schools with aspiring investigative reporters, myself included – recently donated their story notes to a University archive. Many hope the notes will reveal the 33-year-old mystery behind “DT’s” identity – a man (or woman) who was the key source in the Post’s Watergate coverage.

And last Sunday, former Nixon White House Counsel John Dean further fueled hopes of unmasking DT, claiming that he is ill and that the Post has already written his obituary.

Whether we learn DT’s identity is interesting but not important. The bigger issue is that while Deep Throat the person is sick, Deep Throat the symbol is already dead – and that has significant implications for the news business.

Communal Journalism
The days of confidential, “deep background” sources are waning. Other than Seymour Hersh’s stable of anonymous Bush Administration sources that give him information about the war on terror, sources today don’t remain in the shadows for long. In a world where everyone can be a reporter, no secret is safe for 33 minutes, much less 33 years.

Armed with blogs, I-Pods and video phones, the “former audience” as Dan Gillmor calls them have forever changed the often nervous ballet between reporter and source. Journalism is more communal, more cooperative than ever. Stories are “reported” across multiple mediums by any number of individuals and organizations with varying degrees of experience and expertise – and they are all connected to each other in a newsroom-as-commune environment. What began with reporters publishing their e-mail addresses to encourage openness with their readers has evolved into reporters with blogs and a "distributed" model of journalism that would make any 18th Century Pamphleteer proud.

Unfortunately, the pursuit of truth is not the only motivator within the new journalism commune, or even the most prevalent. Too many seek recognition or celebrity status as a reward for their participation. Who needs journalism school when you have a Blogger account?

Nevertheless, communal journalism is both an inevitable and essential evolution of news. We could use more reporters, especially good ones. We could use more people who understand how to use modern tools to tell better, deeper, richer stories.

And we need more Deep Throats, no question.  Only this time, they won’t lurk in dark corners of underground parking garages – they will be part of the commune, they will participate in the conversation, and they almost certainly will have a blog.

Additional links:
Dan Gillmor on Distributed Journalism

Woodward and Bernstein Collection

MSNBC story on John Dean

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