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“Only later did I understand the significance of this: Tying history’s easiest, cheapest publishing tool to history’s best distribution network, the Internet, would have a tremendous impact on media.”

 

ways to get news

 

Weblogs are perhaps the first wave in a new age of participatory publishing, and this revolution is not unique to journalism. Look at politics, business and religious life.

The social and technical networking capabilities of the Internet are re-shaping society and culture. Writer Michael Lewis describes, for example, Internet-sparked upheavals on Wall Street, in law and in the music business.

Lewis is convinced that:
• Creativity almost always happens at the edges of society and not in the center (Howard Dean embraced this outer-in philosophy as a campaign strategy; a shame we will never see how it might have succeeded)
• The Internet enables small groups or even individuals to undermine elites (flashmobs, OhmyNews)

 

An exciting new media ecosystem is emerging. How will traditional media respond?

We could think about personal publishing, moblogging, thumb tribes and Weblogs each as emerging organisms in this new and thoroughly networked, decentralized, evolutionary ecosystem.

In this context, common questions being debated seem short-sighted. For example: Is a blogger a journalist? (Is everyone with a camera a photographer?) What happens to journalism when every reader can be a writer, editor, producer?

It is not a binary choice, not a dichotomy. Participatory journalism is here, and it offers tremendous advantages to those organizations flexible, nimble and humble enough to listen and to adapt.

 

Differences
Participatory journalism and personal publishing on the one hand and mainstream media on the other have radically different mandates and priorities. The ethos is very different for each.

>>Deliberative democracy v. political machinery | church as community v. high church ritual | RIAA v. Shawn Fanning, KaZaA and the ethos of the Internet to share EVERYTHING.

 

More specifically: Mandates and Modus Operandi

Blogging >> mostly amateur writers; easy-to-use software; random acts of journalism (Trent Lott, SF Bay Bridge, Jayson Blair); micro-content (like micro-breweries); the digestion of life, contemplation of and comment on our world and our place in it.
Journalism >> filtering; editing; checking; accuracy and fairness; agenda-setting, gate-keeping and centralization

Journalism >> filter, then publish

Blogging >> publish, then filter

Journalism >> democracy is what we have, information is what we need (an informed electorate)
Blogging >> information is what we have (it's all around us), democracy is what we need

Journalism >> professional editors (elites; top-down)
Blogging >> readers are the editors (from the edges; "a froth of engagement")


Journalism >> answer the questions (who, what, when, where, how)

Blogging >> question the answers (unmaking opinion, unveiling the biases); Maureen Dowd

Journalism >> aging (particularly for newspapers and network television)
Blogging >> young - really, really young (90% of bloggers between 13 and 29 years old; 51% between 13 and 19, according to Perseus Development Corporation)

 

Which leads us to Doc Searls’ typologies (the really bad metaphors are wholly my own):

HOT: talk radio, partisan press (bronzed opinions)
COOL: traditional journalism, neutral (printed, matted and framed)
ENGAGED: blogging (shaped clay not yet fully baked; still malleable)

 

>>editor's (blogger's?) note:
the act of self-publishing differentiates blogging from other online community fora, such as Usenet newsgroups and message boards. It’s not merely about discussion. The acts of publishing, cross-linking, referring, tracking back, and networking (interlinking), among others, gives blogosphere residents a shared sense of community and common purpose, and a sense of collaborative participation toward a more robust, deliberative democracy.

 

The act of publishing is a commitment to thought and to the Socratic notion that writing IS thought, not merely its expression.

What blogs bring journalism:
A check and balance on sloppy, erroneous, incomplete coverage and reporting, on COOL journalism; also a check on the HOT, partisan broadcast of fully formed, irrefutable opinion (the unmaking of opinion).

 

What journalism brings blogs:
Without print journalism, there would be few blogs of import; most are derivative and still dependent on journalism, reacting to the coverage, commenting on the issues, events and people covered, providing context.

 

Why some in journalism are embracing blogs:

• To connect with audience(s) and build trust.

News organizations see the blog as one of many channels through which editorial content flows. Blogging is seen as a way to make these organizations more accessible, answerable and transparent. Question: if there is no capable, workable check on such a powerful institution and force in American life, what is the inevitable result? (Jayson Blair, Stephen Glass, Jack Kelly; the internal checks aren't working.) Perhaps blogging and its cousins are a smarter check on journalism than internal standards, opinions and commercial (marketplace) checks.

• To push the envelope. Blogs expand boundaries and force examination of editorial processes.

• To provide context, notes and content that can't make it into the publication.
Blogs make room for content that doesn’t neatly fit into traditional media's pre-fab constructions and compartments.

• To more quickly benefit from ideas and opinions bubbling up into the mainstream.
It has to do with tapping into this new networked media ecosystem.

• To build community, one of THE buzzwords in journalism.
Readers become active partners rather than passive consumers.
Gives readers a stake in the process and its product, increasing loyalty and understanding along the way.
Do not underestimate word-of-mouth referral power in this new media ecosystem.

• To give reporters and writers, who by nature love to write and to express themselves, another avenue for expression.

 

Sample applications:

Sniper trial of John Allen Muhammad in Virginia
The Gazette in Maryland
Reporter David Abrams: an ongoing weblog while he attends the trial. Great example of hard-news blogging.

Virginia-Pilot in Norfolk
Online news coordinator Kerry Sipe
Reporting live from the court complex, posting minute-by-minute updates throughout the trial.

Sipe (to Poynter.org): "Continuous online coverage of the trial was my idea. Since there was to be no TV or audio allowed by the court, I felt that real-time online reports would be the next best way to satisfy the intense interest in the trial . . .

I am using a laptop with a wireless connection to the Internet. My copy is essentially self-edited, though I do have some folks back at the paper looking over my shoulder."

Microsoft as community
Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Reporter Todd Bishop
Daily blog/journal to enhance and extend the P-I's regular Microsoft coverage

Pulling back the curtain
Dallas Morning News

A
llows members of paper's editorial board to share thoughts and allow readers a window into its opinion-development process.

 

Back to 35,000 feet (the big picture) >> key terms and concepts:

Engagement (as opposed to merely reception or readership)

Participation (even commitment)

Collaboration (particularly with collaborative blogs) “open source” | “copy left” | “file-sharing” | "unseizing money, machinery, ideas”

Community (every writer is also a reader, and we all know this): think neighborhoods (politics; interest-based; occupational; disciplinary)

Transparency (show it to us; we will check your interpretation with references)

Nimbleness (de facto check and balance on both HOT and COOL journalism)

Multidirectional (as opposed to traditional journalism)

Democratic and egalitarian (round dining tables, not rectangles)

Inconclusiveness (in process)

For a postmodern culture, this last characteristic perhaps more than any other explains its popularity; in process; questioning the answers; never quite sure; “liberal” in the true sense of the word

These concepts lead us to a related and common thread in society, politics and even business: social capital.

Social capital is the currency in a postmodern world: connectedness, networkedness ("the most important person you know is the person you haven’t yet met"); knowledge networks

In business, Fast Company magazine, Jan. issue: Top 25 Social Capitalists (first time for this list). Esther Dyson trumpeting the social networking movement

Case studies:

• Blogging (including LiveJournal, Blogger, Xanga, WordPress)
Mashable.com
FaceBook, MySpace, Second Life, Friendster; Friendzy, Tribe.net, Ryze
IM, which is now more popular among teens than the telephone, MUCH more popular
• business and social networking software tools such as:

ZeroDegrees
Spoke
LinkedIn (for business)
AlwaysOn
Ecademy

Even eBay is a case study here
Pierre Omidyar >> $6.5 billion from eBay; think about that just for one second

Slashdot | Wikipedia (and wikis/quickies in general) | Advogato | ePinions |
Extremetech.com | Amazon.com’s book reviews and reputation indices

 

In politics, the hype surrounding Dean’s blogs and his and Wesley Clark’s, Kerry’s and Kucinich’s use of Meetup.com, a NY-based business connecting people and setting up F2F meetings

This connection, online to offline, is an important one; much of what we’re talking about today is about activity on the Internet inspiring activity in real space

BTW: Omidyar has invested several million in Meetup.com
“The early eBay users saw the trade as just an excuse to get to know other people who shared their passions about collecting.” -- Omidyar

Dean campaign became kind of a poster child for this socially networked, blogging, participatory, grass roots engagement and empowerment. The campaign was also a nice, convenient metaphor for participatory journalism, or it was before Iowa and the rage speech.

 

Decentralized, using smart mobs and Meetup.com, the Dean campaign was for a time adored in the media for its fidelity to the ethos of participatory democracy, the parallel to what we’re seeing in participatory journalism.

As bloggers have long known, this decentralization creates a "froth of engagement" (Lessig) that multiplies and cell divides (to mix my metaphors into a froth of biology).

Larry Lessig: “When they write the account of the 2004 campaign, it will include at least one word that has never appeared in any presidential history: blog.”

And here is the connection: democracy is about engaging people to act, and blogs are doing that. They are creating community without the community feeling built, which is a key for traditional media. (Remember Koz?) Instead, it's organic, open source.

 

Example from home: Bill Suzanne Travers of Atlanta. Never worked for a political candidate. Retired at age 60. Became part of Dean’s Iowa army of 3,500 or so. Drove to Iowa this month.

Key quote: “I would never have gotten this involved if not for the Internet." Travers spent hours reading blogs posted by other Dean supporters, which led to a meeting in Atlanta through Meetup.com. “I think it’s the wave of the future for political campaigns, especially the way the Dean people put it together. They made it so easy,” said Travers, who reported having a sense of ownership.

Key quote No. 2: “Campaigns used to be organized top-down, but now there’s a huge amount of lateral communication and organization. People aren’t waiting on orders, they are doing things on their own . . . What appeals to us is that this campaign is made up of average people, not corporate types. I’ve been going to the Web site every day, and they make you feel a part of it.”

Key quote No. 3 (from Wired, on emergent leadership): “You’re not a leader; you’re a place. You’re like a park or a garden. If it’s comfortable and cool, people are attracted. Deanspace is not really about Dean. It’s about us.”

 

Should it be any different for journalism? >> Case study: OhmyNews (the site is in Korean); a place, a park, with a speaker's corner

The catch for traditional journalism: Gotta give up control.


A few other blogs to sample:

Poynter Institute’s section on weblogs:

John Romensko, Poynter Institute

Dave Barry, humorist

Eatonweb publishes blog lists broken down by category

Blogs for my classes at Berry College: mass media law | news writing & print editing

For more on research on online reputations, see the University of Michigan's research on reputations

 

Cites:

Jeff Howe, “The Connectors,” Wired (November 2003): 174.

Larry Lessig, "The New Road to the White House," Wired (November 2003): 136.

Jay Rosen, "What's Radical About the Weblog Form in Journalism."

Mike Williams, "Volunteers take up opening battle," Atlanta Journal-Constitution (14 January 2004), A4.

Gary Wolf, "How the Internet Invented Dean," Wired (January 2004): 137-143.

Yeon-Jung Yu, "OhmyNews Makes Every Citizen a Reporter," Japan Media Review (11 December 2003).

Several authors, Nieman Reports (Fall 2003), including J.D. Lasica, Rebecca Blood, Dan Gillmor, Mike Wendland, Jane Kirtley.



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©2007 Brian Carroll
Last Updated: November 2007
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