On new voices, media transparency

My journey through new media with Dan Gillmor’s We the media has been both uplifting and disheartening. Gillmor outlines several ways new media give voice to the voiceless at a time when trust in traditional media is low.  The evolution from journalism as a lecture to journalism as a conversation, has he puts it, has indeed humbled Big Media. But I can’t help worrying about these voices, given his statement that “most of us don’t stop long enough to consider what we’ve been told, much less seek out context.”  Particularly in view of his revelation that most bloggers have not enabled the comment feature, will this lead to the substantive dialogue we all seek? Will RSS as our own “Presidential Briefing” open our minds and conversations, or further close us off to valuable information?

I join Gillmor in lamenting the demise of quality investigative journalism, which requires commitments of time and money few media outlets are willing to support during these convulsive times.  I disagree with Yale University professor Yochai Benkler’s referenced comment that Big Media retain an advantage over open-source journalism in the investigative realm. Sure, Big Media have the better capacity to make this happen, but they have squandered that gift.  Big Media began chipping away at investigative journalism years ago in favor of quick, cheap, mindless stories. With that, complex thinking was swept up in the dustpan of history. The question is: Is that what the public wants, and if so, should media defy demand and offer expensive investigative pieces at its peril?

I am intrigued that business is making use of wikis for planning and collaboration tools. But this kind of connectivity also must extend to customers. Perhaps the “hacking” phenomenon Gillmor describes – consumers making adjustments to products – could be the result of the death of customer service as we have known it. On the other hand, I’m not sure his push for more public information sharing in the product-development phase would be workable for businesses whose existence depends on patents.    

While business can’t be expected to spill trade secrets, it nevertheless can, and should, share information on successes and failures that could help the industry as a whole. But behold, even the media business, whose livelihood is communication, is reluctant to do this. In his buzzmachine blog on Feb. 6, journalist Jeff Jarvis pleads with The New York Times to reveal information about its Times Select books venture, “the shuttered experiment in paid content,” for the benefit of the industry http://buzzmachine.com/ .

                Which brings me to Gillmor’s astute observation that journalism is among the least transparent of industries; I contend that it is this veil of secrecy that in part triggered the popularity of blogging. But even he doesn’t seem to take the leap toward full disclosure. While embracing those who challenge and correct him, he shows discomfort with the emergence of what he calls “Truth Squads,” and expresses doubt that the media industry will become entirely transparent. But the truth is that other industries, such as medicine, have their scrutinizing truth squads, so what makes the media less touchable?  It seems that a proactive rather than a reactive approach might work better if Big Media are truly committed to the transparency that’s needed to rebuild credibility. Why not make available for each news story a full list of sources tapped, so consumers can decide for themselves whether the story was constructed with truth and objectivity? This could be problematic for investigative pieces, but hey, who sees those anymore anyway? 

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