inkwell.vue.402 : The Future of Journalism
permalink #0 of 81: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 1 Feb 11 22:52
    
Journalism is in a powerful and challenging transition brought on by the 
appearance of new digital forms of media, the emergence of many low cost 
or free information channels delivered via the Internet and competing 
aggressively for mindshare, and the collapse of business models for 
publishing as these new technologies replace print and broadcast as 
default options for delivery of information. At the same time, innovative 
new methods and models for the practice of journalism are beginning to 
emerge - data journalism, news applications, citizen and collaborative 
journalism, and nonfprofit news organizations, to name a few. We've asked 
a group of leading journalists to convene as a panel here in Inkwell for 
the next couple of weeks. We'll be exploring innovative new thinking about 
journalism, and talk about the state and future of the art.

Our panel:

Scott Rosenberg is a writer, editor and website builder. These days he's 
working on MediaBugs.org. He wrote _Say Everything and Dreaming in Code_. 
He was co-founder and managing editor of Salon.

Peter Lewis teaches digital journalism and news reporting at Stanford 
University. Before that he was a Knight Fellow at Stanford researching 
business models for digital journalism. His journalism career has gone 
from hot lead to cold type to warm electrons and includes long stretches 
at The Des Moines Register, The New York Times, and Fortune magazine. In 
1996 he helped start an Internet company that charged people for quality 
online editorial content. It failed.

Andrew Haeg co-founded the Public Insight Network in 2003 and has helped 
build it into a fast-growing platform for journalistic sourcing and 
audience engagement. Haeg was a correspondent for The Economist for seven 
years, has worked as a public radio business and economics reporter, and 
was a 2008-2009 Knight Professional Journalism Fellow at Stanford 
University, where he focused on leading change and innovation in 
journalism and developing a prototype for the next-generation Public 
Insight Network.

Tony Deifell is managing director of Q Media Labs, which explores 
questions of how to change the world through media, technology and 
business. The Lab develops new projects and provides strategy consulting & 
leadership training for clients such as The Media Consortium, The 
Democracy Alliance, Google, UCLA and Community Wealth Ventures (Knight 
Foundation grantees) among others. Recent work includes The Big Thaw: 
Charting a New Course for Journalism and case studies about Mother Jones, 
AlterNet, Sierra Club and Brightcove.s online media business models.

Kevin Anderson is a freelance journalist and digital strategist with more 
than a decade of experience with the BBC and the Guardian. Last year, he 
teamed up with British social media pioneer, Suw Charman-Anderson, and he 
now works with international and national news organisations around the 
world to develop and execute digital journalism strategies and prepare 
their staffs for the future. He is a frequent speaker at conferences and 
events around the world. 

Jon Lebkowsky is Chief Digital Officer of Plutopia Productions and 
Executive Editor at the Plutopia News Network. Jon is a technology 
developer, writer, editor, and activist, and is well known as a 
forward-looking pioneer of the Internet and technoculture. He is president 
of the nonprofit EFF-Austin. and was co-editor of the book Extreme 
Democracy. He has written for FringeWare Review, Wired Magazine, Mondo 
2000, bOING bOING, 21C, the Austin Chronicle, and many other publications.
  
inkwell.vue.402 : The Future of Journalism
permalink #1 of 81: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 1 Feb 11 22:57
    
I want to welcome our distinguished guests to Inkwell and to this
conversation about the new digital-era world of journalism. And thanks
to the WELL for giving us this venue for this relevant and important
discussion. 

To open the conversation, I'd like to invite each of you to describe
your thoughts about the current state of journalism, focusing on the
best new thinking about the profession. What's happening that's
exciting, and makes you feel optimistic about the future?
  
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permalink #2 of 81: Andrew Haeg (andrewhaeg) Wed 2 Feb 11 17:21
    
I'm most excited about networked journalism -- the kind of journalism
made possible by new tools and networks that allow journalists to
connect directly with knowledgeable sources. 

Journalists have developed an uncomfortably servile relationship with
professionals trained to handle the press, be they politicians, public
relations managers, etc. We're just beginning to see what's possible
when journalists have the ability to circumvent the message controllers
by efficiently reaching out to many people with relevant expertise. 

I believe networked journalism will make reporting more of an act of
discovery and exploration, rather than one of searching for puzzle
pieces that fit a pre-determined idea of what the story is. 
  
inkwell.vue.402 : The Future of Journalism
permalink #3 of 81: Scott Rosenberg (scottros) Wed 2 Feb 11 17:28
    
I feel like I've been having "future of journalism" conversations for
20 years now! So in a sense, for me, the future is here. We're living
it. Over and over, predictions that Internet-smart observers made have
been ignored by "experts" and yet proven true:

*The Web would disintermediate powerful gatekeepers of previous eras
-- and introduce its own new set of gatekeepers

*The Web would gradually and steadily erode the economic value of
individual pieces of journalism, thanks to (a) abundance of free or
low-cost contributions and (b) disintegration of the old mass
advertising regime

*The Web would introduce new forms of business support for journalism
that wouldn't look like the old ones (i.e., Google text ads)

*The Web would disintegrate the old bundle of stuff that we thought of
as a media product and force us to reassemble new bundles that make
more sense in the new medium 

So all of these changes, and more, have removed the entire
superstructure around journalism itself that we thought of as stable.
It's a new world. Uncomfortable in some ways, exciting in others. 

What's always been exciting to me, and keeps me optimistic, are these
factors:

*For now, at least, vast quantities of good journalism from around the
world are more widely available to people who seek it than ever before
in history

*The opportunity for people to conduct their own acts of media
criticism by linking and citing sources and posting critiques is more
widely distributed than ever before

*We all have at least the opportunity to challenge our own entrenched
views by seeking out the best arguments by those we disagree with (yes,
too few of us avail ourselves of this...)

*Journalism as a paid profession is in crisis but journalism as an
activity pursued by dedicated amateurs is thriving. Experts in many
fields are able to contribute their perspectives directly through blogs
and other online channels in ways that both undermine the authority of
generalist journalism of the old school but also improve upon it.

* We idealize how good it was for the journalism profession in the old
days. In the late '70s when I started out, there were "no jobs."
Magazines and newspapers were folding left and right. It was a dead end
field but people like me entered it anyway -- just as talented young
people still do today.
  
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permalink #4 of 81: Peter Lewis (peterlewis) Wed 2 Feb 11 17:46
    
First, Jon, thanks for organizing this discussion, and for starting us
off with a question that steers us toward a warmer, sunnier view of
the future of journalism. 

It’s been almost 40 years since I drew my first paycheck as a
professional journalist – as a cub reporter and photographer for weekly
Osawatomie Graphic-News in Kansas – and I can say without hesitation
that this is the most exciting time in my career to be in the
journalism business. I can write this despite the fact that I’m among
the thousands of veteran journalists who lost their jobs in the
contraction of the traditional publishing business. 

Why exciting? Why the optimism? 

Let me turn that around: Why the handwringing and rending of garments?
Yes, we’re seeing an almost total collapse of the traditional business
models of journalism, in which a relatively small number of publishers
formed a lucrative (to them) oligopoly. When companies gain monopoly
or oligopoly control of an industry, they often stop innovating. The
decline of the newspaper industry, for example, started in the 1940s,
before the inventors of the Internet were out of short pants. And while
I’m hardly a Bolshevik, it’s hard for me to lament the current
struggles of corporate news organizations that fire their top
investigative reporters for budget reasons on the same day they pay $14
million for pictures of Brad and Angelina’s new baby.

What we’re seeing today is a profusion of new journalism outlets, a
greater diversity of voices, and a healthy new interest in the
technology of newsgathering and dissemination. It’s all quite a mess
right now, but a happy mess, unless you’re one of the folks still
clinging to the old business models (Rupert Murdoch excluded).

The thing to remember is that there are important distinctions among
journalism, infotainment, and the media on which they travel. It’s
worrisome that lots of people confuse journalism with infotainment of
the sort practiced by Fox News, and I’m sorry to see The Washington
Post and The New York Times shuttering news bureaus. But there’s more
good journalism being done today than ever before; it’s just scattered
in more places. And despite the horror stories about the financial
state of the industry, there are lots of bright young men and women who
are studying journalism and willing to invent a viable business model
for it. I’ve got 30 of them in my graduate journalism classes at
Stanford and they inspire me every day.
  
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permalink #5 of 81: Tony Deifell (tony-deifell) Wed 2 Feb 11 18:05
    
Good to meet you all. Thanks or organizing this, Jon.

I'm excited about measurement, journalist-as-entrepreneur,
story-telling innovations, location-aware mobile, and converting users'
reputational value among many other things.

Although I've thought and written a lot about the future of
journalism, I have more questions than answers on the topic. I can tell
you one set of questions that that currently peak my interest.  

Will online media exacerbate "the big sort" (Bill Bishop), where
people further sort themselves into balkanized communities based on
beliefs & opinions? What will happen to people's point of view with the
rise of personalized news? (Have you all seen NYTimes new
recommendation engine? - http://www.nytimes.com/recommendations) Will
personalized filtering and the abundance of news sources ultimately
make people more self-focused and fragmented in like-minded groups? I'm
not talking about the Web's potential here, but rather about what is
happening behaviorally. I agree with Scott that we have “at least the
opportunity to challenge our own entrenched views,” and with Peter that
we have more diverse voices than ever, but how are news consumers
behaving?

What are the long-term effects on political rhetoric & gridlock - and
on democracy? And, most importantly, are there better design solutions
to online balkanization that build upon what people want instead of
what we believe they "should" want?
  
inkwell.vue.402 : The Future of Journalism
permalink #6 of 81: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 2 Feb 11 20:11
    
Say more about "design solutions to online balkanization." To me the
biggest challenge for all of us, journalists and readers alike, is in
what David Weinberger refers to as "the plenum." He talks about the
"assumption of abundance…an abundance of information, links, people,
etc. Our brains have difficulty comprehending the abundance we now
have. There are so many people on line that the work of 1% can create
something that boggles the mind of the other 99%. As more people come
on line, that rule of 1% will become a rule of 0.01% and then 0.001%.
The curve of amazement is going straight up.

"The abundance means we will fill up every space we can think of. We
are creating plenums (plena?) of sociality, knowledge and ideas, and
things (via online sensors). These plenums fill up our social,
intellectual and creative spaces. The only thing I can compare them to
in terms of what they allow is language itself."

http://www.hyperorg.com/blogger/2010/04/23/fiberfete-and-plenums/

How do we manage this kind of abundance? And how do we have an
effective voice among so many others? How does this change the role and
work of the journalist?
  
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permalink #7 of 81: Ted Newcomb (tcn) Wed 2 Feb 11 20:27
    
Rupert Murdock didn't waste any time getting to the iPad with
http://www.thedaily.com. Shouldn't be long before Apple does some kind
of Ping variation for the news on the site.

Is this the future? Will there be room for specialization? How do you
think all this will affect personal blogging; can they become
stringers?
  
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permalink #8 of 81: Kevin Anderson (kevinanderson) Thu 3 Feb 11 06:19
    
Thanks Jon for starting this discussion and apologies for joining
late. I'll blame it on time zones. 

I'll agree with Peter (I got my start at the Hays Daily News in
Kansas) that is an amazing time to be in journalism, but now being in
London, I'll take a bit of liberty with a classic quote from Dickens.
For journalists, it was the most exciting of times. It was the most
terrifying of times. 

First on the terrifying side of the ledger, I think that journalism as
it is currently organised is a major industrial operation akin to
manufacturing. If we think of the pressures that manufacturing has come
under in advanced economies, journalism now finds itself in a similar
position, although the competition is not from low-cost labour in a
globalised economy but from the piecemeal disruption of traditional
streams of revenue, primarily various forms of advertising. Journalists
used to have a pretty stable career path and while it might be a
stretch to say a job for life, jobs were relatively secure. For those
who remain working for news organisations, there are downward pressures
on wages. 

Now, to make the case for it being the most exciting times, we're
still in the midst of creating journalism for digital media. I'll agree
with Andrew that networked journalism is a major opportunity not only
to enrich our journalism but also to build stronger relationships with
our audiences. I see networked journalism to not only engage citizens
with journalism but also to engage citizens with their democracies.
Although I've worked in print, radio, television and the web, my main
focus has been digital since 1996. We are still only scratching the
surface of developing the grammar of digital story telling. We are
still only scratching the surface with engaging our audiences. 
  
inkwell.vue.402 : The Future of Journalism
permalink #9 of 81: Gail Williams (gail) Thu 3 Feb 11 11:04
    
That's intriguing and exciting. Digital storytelling is being invented
collaboratively by professionals and passionate amateurs, which is not
at all like the evolution of TV journalism was, it seems to me. 

For those who would like to tweet, email, FB, blog and otherwise
circulate the word of this conversation beyond The WELL's membership,
for reading without being logged-in use:

http://tinyurl.com/j-panel  

(Also, you may mail offsite questions to <inkwell@well.com> -- please
put the author's name in the subject line, and indicate your first or
full name to be posted with your question. Thank you!)
  
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permalink #10 of 81: Jo Ann Mandinach (needtono) Thu 3 Feb 11 12:54
    
Jo Ann Mandinach here.

Jon, thanks for pulling together such a great panel.  Peter, great to
see you here.

At a time when Media Matters, AlterNet and others are busily exposing
how an organization like Fox News plans and executes its attack
journalism like branding Obama as a socialist and how its commentators'
rantings have resulted in death threats against bad bad "liberals"
like the 78-year-old professor (Francis Fox Pivens) over one of her old
papers that no one ever read, it would seem that the digital media
could play a much-need and more active role in exposing these lies.

If you look at the news article comments in Yahoo news, you'll see all
sorts of unsupported rantings and often hate speech yet their system
is still incapable of offering links to stories that would undermine
some of the rants.  The Well, for example, has had that capability for
years. 

A few questions:  

Why can't "liberal/progressive" groups play a more active role in
countering attack journalism?

Why does it take The New York Times three weeks to cover stories about
political corruption and other abuses that break much more quickly in
Huffington Post, Crooks & Liars and AlterNet?

Some on The Well posted a link to an excellent expose by Crooks and
Liars of about 20 acts of politically motivated violence by the right,
tying some of them back to Fox.  Why isn't the "mainstream media" doing
similar in-depth reporting on this?

Thanks.
  
inkwell.vue.402 : The Future of Journalism
permalink #11 of 81: descend into a fractal hell of meta-truthiness (jmcarlin) Thu 3 Feb 11 15:41
    

> *The opportunity for people to conduct their own acts of media
> criticism by linking and citing sources and posting critiques is more
> widely distributed than ever before

In the bad old days people accepted what the media published as fact.
Often I would or others would be aware of the distortion involved in
covering events from a biased perspective either because of political bias
or from ignorance. Now only do we have the classic example of Fox, but
liberal reporters have also been biased when it comes to reporting.  And
we've had ignorance of science and religion causing errors and bias in the
stories we've read and seen.

Now there are voices, for good and ill, challenging that state of the art
as you pointed out.  Can any of you point us at excellent sites and voices
that critique news reports?  I know Nate Silver at 538 (now a NY Times
blog), does an outstanding job in critiquing polls but what about science
and religion and other special areas as well as political and general
reporting?
  
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permalink #12 of 81: Tony Deifell (tony-deifell) Thu 3 Feb 11 19:25
    
Jerry, NewsTrust started by Fabrice Florin (http://newstrust.net) is a
site that is working on filtering for accuracy, fairness, etc. They
have "Truthsquad" (community fact-checking). They're not as much the
kind of critique that Nate Silver does, but it's a good site. Seems to
me that that sort of news critique is still pretty fragmented. I'm
curious to hear other recommendations.
  
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permalink #13 of 81: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Thu 3 Feb 11 21:10
    
I'm just wondering if obvious bias is such a bad thing. How objective
can we really be? Isn't accuracy more important than complete
objectivity?
  
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permalink #14 of 81: Ted Newcomb (tcn) Fri 4 Feb 11 06:11
    
The theme for The Future of Media:
(http://briansolis.posterous.com/the-future-of-media-a-conversation-hosted-by)

on authentication in journalism..."how this new breed of influencers
is shaping what we deem to be "true" sources and facts, and the key
media trends to watch" You all have always used sources, what's
different about digital access and fact checking these days? Are you
setting up collaborative networks of trusted citizens? And do you find
yourselves collaborating with them as you create and edit your content?
  
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permalink #15 of 81: Ted Newcomb (tcn) Fri 4 Feb 11 06:19
    
Re:#13 Yes, I would rather know your bias or perspective up front and
follow accordingly. Also want to be able to balance that with comments
on your sites and open debate as well as tracking sites that are
different from my own points of view. As consumers of content, we
already have our own biases. I'd like to be able to reinforce and
educate myself on the one hand and be aware of the other voices out
there that would challenge and break my boxes as well. 

Anyway, with metrics, etc. we will know your biases in a month's worth
of posts, so put a banner up and be as fair and objective as you can.
Is that too idealistic or too naive? Would it create a niche audience
that doesn't help the economics of your own survival?
  
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permalink #16 of 81: Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Fri 4 Feb 11 06:52
    
That Brian Solis link points to an issue I have with the social media
side of the equation. Brian Solis is smart, but he's all about
marketing, PR, and advertising: selling through media. Guys like Brian,
Dave Evans, Chris Brogan, Jeremiah Owyang et al are considered thought
leaders about social media, and they're all about customer engagement,
i.e. commercial uses of media. But how is "social media marketing"
different from spam? If Solis' "new breed of influencers" is an army of
PR and marketing professionals and companies recruiting customers, how
much harder is it to separate real journalism for variations and
degrees of marketing?

An illustration of my concern:
http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2011/02/official-chinese-prop
aganda-now-online-from-the-wapo/70690/

In this piece, James Fallows points to a section of the Washington
Post that looks like it could be a blog about China - but if you read
the very-fine print, you see that it's purchased - essentially a
well-integrated ad.

In social media channels, there's often no fine print. Commercial
messages abound.
  
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permalink #17 of 81: Ted Newcomb (tcn) Fri 4 Feb 11 08:35
    
I see it the same way Jon,sort of provoked that one there. It's a
growing concern. You get a nice new tech tool with all kinds of new and
creative possibilities for whatever, in this case media and
journalism, and the marketers and money hawks just spam all over it.
Seeing it in reputation management and social reputation areas, as
well. Now they are reverse engineering that and targeting you when they
find you to be an "influencer" of whatever audience they want to
market. Blech! CRM needs to be renamed Corraling Rich Media.Corrupting
Reactive Markets. You get the idea.

What we need, as you journalists are a hope, is independent content
providers that are as free from all this nonsense as possible. I wish
you every success and look forward to following you all.
  
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permalink #19 of 81: descend into a fractal hell of meta-truthiness (jmcarlin) Fri 4 Feb 11 10:06
    

I've been reading http://www.getreligion.org/ for their reviews of
religion reporting. The bloggers are conservative Christians (mostly) and
sometimes their choice of topic especially reflects that background, but
I've found their critiques mostly accurate.

Are any of you familiar with that site?
  
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permalink #20 of 81: Gail Williams (gail) Fri 4 Feb 11 11:39
    
I don't want to obscure <jonl> 's questions about social media
marketing, but this article by panelist <scottros> is terrific:

<http://open.salon.com/blog/scott_rosenberg/2011/02/03/murdochs_daily_post-web_
innovation_or_cd-rom_flashback>

>  ...most of the apparatus of two-way communication that every
serious digital publishing venture of the past 15 years has taken as a
given is missing from the Daily.

Very interesting questions! 
  
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permalink #21 of 81: Kevin Anderson (kevinanderson) Fri 4 Feb 11 12:40
    
With respect to bias and transparency, I've worked for the BBC, which
is required to be objective and provide balance, and I've worked for
The Guardian, which wears its politics on its sleeve. I have seen the
strengths and limitations of both models. I would say that the presence
of the BBC sets a standard for broadcast journalism that is incredibly
high and all other broadcasters in the UK must aspire to. Broadcasting
is a highly regulated industry in the UK. 

One thing I would note with respect to newspapers in the UK: The print
circulation for The Guardian in the UK was 270,582 in December,
dropping 11.35%. It's Sunday title, The Observer dropped 15.4%. Let's
compare this with the toxic Daily Mail (Guardian readers call it the
Daily Hate). The Mail only saw a 2.2% drop to a circulation of 2.1m,
yes that's million. The Mail is rabidly xenophobic. It makes Fox look
almost progressive. In the UK, in print, The Guardian is a minority
voice under severe economic pressure, even with its foundation funding
. The Mail reaches a vastly larger audience and drives UK politics to a
much greater degree than The Guardian. Every time I have to deal with
increasingly restrictive British immigration policy, I am reminded of
this fact. Print journalism in the UK is like cable TV in the US: Heavy
on opinion and light on reporting. 

The objectivity as a the gold standard of journalism versus
objectivity as an unattainable goal debate has been going on for most
of my 17-year career. I can see how transparency and honesty about
one's point of view is important, and I practice it. However, I am
reminded of one of the most important lessons one of my journalism
professors, Bob Reid, drilled into us at the University of Illinois.
Before you go out and report, he said, check your biases. Why? It's not
just about the story that you eventually write, it's also about the
questions you will or won't ask. I can't count the number of times that
I read and story and think, "Why didn't the reporter ask this?" If you
go out with a certain idea about a story, you and your readers will
never be surprised by what you find. 
  
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permalink #22 of 81: Kevin Anderson (kevinanderson) Fri 4 Feb 11 12:47
    
@jmcarlin, in terms of exposing flaws in science reporting and pushing
the debate on science, I'd flag up my friend Ben Goldacre, who writes
the Bad Science for The Guardian, has an excellent site of the same
name, which is quite a bit livelier than its substantiation on The
Guardian. 

http://www.badscience.net/
  
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permalink #23 of 81: descend into a fractal hell of meta-truthiness (jmcarlin) Fri 4 Feb 11 14:32
    

Thankis for the link to badscience.
  
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permalink #24 of 81: Tony Deifell (tony-deifell) Fri 4 Feb 11 15:58
    
Jon, re: "design solutions to online balkanization.”

Great to see your reference to David Weinberger. When we interviewed
him for The Big Thaw, he said that the best-case scenario for
journalism is that “there will be structures in place that [enable news
to] challenge me in ways that I want to be challenged, but that ten
years ago I didn’t think I wanted to be challenged.” The key word to me
is “want.” He doesn’t say “should.” I think that we can often fall
prey to the tyranny of should. That is, we focus so much on the way the
world should be, that we don’t take into account how the world is. I
believe we can find ways to bridge what people want individually with
what is good for society as a whole. But, this might take some
deliberate design solutions in how platforms, user interfaces and
communities are structured.

I wonder whether people left to their own devices will further sort
into like-minded enclaves? NPR had a story about this today in fact
(http://n.pr/Cliquey) Bill Bishop says “the big sort” is largely about
self-segregation. We cannot depend solely on the freedom and diversity
of the web to counter balkanization. Clay Shirky claims the more that
diversity and freedom of choice increases, the more extreme inequality
becomes. I agree with Weinberger’s comment in our interview: “Just as
we’ve worked against (homogeneity) successfully so far, in the sciences
especially, we have to work against it in the media too. (…) If we
don’t take steps, we’ll just be sheep hanging out with other sheep just
like us.”

If people’s pre-existing interests & opinions determine what they
consume online, then how will their viewpoints evolve? In the same
direction, I suspect.

Because media organizations have less control of information flow
today, they can no longer insist that readers “should” consider
different viewpoints. Readers will simply filter it out. But, we can
give newsreaders reasons to want to do this by appealing to broader
interests; making news entertaining and meeting people’s interest in
discovering something new or in forming their own opinion. I’m
interested in experimenting with design solutions that help achieve
this.

What new approaches do you all think could work?
  
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permalink #25 of 81: Tiffany Lee Brown (magdalen) Fri 4 Feb 11 18:04
    

as banal and irritating as it can be, Facebook actually provides a
glistening nugget of hope in the Internet mud. it can, but doesn't have to,
be used to simply promote and validate one's usual POV. if a WELL writer
liberal friend posts a link to a news story, complete with comment ("wtf is
wrong with those idiot Republicans??") and i re-post it, 900 of my FB
friends will likely see it and sort-of agree. 

but the remaining 200 FB friends may be my saving grace. these are the
folks i wouldn't normally hear from or hang out with: someone i sorta knew
in high school. someone i went to church with when i was 8 years old. and
these people expand my tiny horizons a little. the one who stayed out in
the country where we grew up, took over her mom's farm: sad to say, i
assumed she was conservative. not at all. she posts Democratic stuff all
the time. my Christian missionary cousin. the rancher in Eastern Oregon. i
need to hear, even just occasionally, from these people, to remind me that
my little enclave of artists and writers and heathen liberal city-dwellers
are not the entirety of America. 

that's a useful thing about how small towns and communities operate, and it
can seep back to us online. 200 people in a small rural community can all
get along even if they disagree on some major issues, because they are a
community. the guy who stops with his big-ass pickup truck to pull your car
out of a snowbank doesn't leave you stranded because you've got hippie
devil worshipping tree-hugging bumperstickers. he just stops and pulls you
out of the snow. and next time you're feeling dismissive about him and
people you imagine are like him, you remember being pulled out of the snow,
and you squeak your mind open just a tiny bit.

i guess i'm encouraged by the idea that this can happen online, along with
all the balkanization. i've also seen some (but certainly not all) people
come together after wrestling with big issues in comments following blog
posts or newspaper articles. for every asshole who posts something evil and
inflammatory, there are 25 people trying to have a genuine conversation ---
and sometimes showing real signs of grasping each other's situations, of
changing their minds.

given that journalism is now an interactive, performative sport, i'd like
to see more attention paid to its potential for creating mutual
understanding between people. to me, this is part of what journalism is
for, especially local newspapers. i might not ever think about how it
affects people's lives that my city has crappy ADA compliance. if the paper
runs an article about an artist-activist who can't get to any performance
art shows in her wheelchair, well, now i begin to understand someone else's
experience. it seems to me that what happens after something is published
is now more important than getting it published in the first place, yet
publishers treat the interactivity as an afterthought and marketing tool. 

sorry, i ran long...
  

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