Positive deviance. It sounds like an oxymoron but – brace yourselves – it’s a practical theory. Positive Deviance (PD) is all about unleashing and amplifying the power of ordinary people.
PD expert Arvind Singhal explains it as looking for the people others call crazy — the ones who are doing and succeeding in the face of all odds, with no particular advantages over their peers. In an age where no one seems sure-footed about what should be going on in newsrooms, PD might just help journalists move forward.
McLellan touches on this idea in her recent blog about unlocking the middle to create culture change in news organizations. Very few employees will throw themselves at new technology and routines with complete comfort. There’s another small group who will go down screaming and fighting trying to convince everyone around them the new way of doing things is bullshit. But in that “middle” McLellan refers to, there are probably a few who, although not early adapters, are managing just fine in changing newsrooms.
As McLellan identifies (and communication guru Ev Rogers discovered) once you win over the middle, you win the battle. Perhaps by identifying the “crazy” actions that allow some journalists to adapt to a new environment the media evolution can be reframed from a fight into a journey.
Jenkins recognizes that “the power of the grassroots media is that it diversifies; the power of broadcast media is that it amplifies”. A partnership between the two could create the groundwork for the most powerful journalism yet.
Profit-driven news organizations choose ratings over social impact because higher ratings equate to more advertisers and more money. However, the very unwieldy nature of the Internet allows every day citizens to gain exposure. A study just released in The Economist found that popularity, or in this instance number of eyes, doesn’t always add up to more influence – something even advertisers are starting to recognize. The power of interaction on the Internet may very well trump the overall visibility of mainstream media.
Given appropriate time and resources, journalists can continue their role as key players in a social democracy by amplifying diverse messages, being open to new ideas, creating well researched and balanced stories, and helping others do the same.
Seeing someone else “do” makes it difficult to say it can’t be done.