May 21, 2007
Battle Between Old & New Media
This past weekend, I attended another panel in Berkeley that addressed the Battle Between Old and New Media. I refer to it as a battle because regardless of the fact that we, as an industry, have been discussing this at social media forums and events for the past few years, there's still an 'us and them' struggle, largely because reporters are losing their jobs (the SF Chronicle just announced a 25% cut in their newsroom by end of summer), newspapers are folding and old media continues to consolidate.
It's no surprise that contrarian Andrew Keen, author of the upcoming book Cult of the Amateur, was on this Cybersalon panel with Robert Scoble, Dan Gillmor, and long-established traditional media reporter Katie Hafner from the NY Times. I wrote about another panel that Keen was on earlier (at OnHollywood in May) although haven't done a write-up on his book yet even though I finished the galley proof weeks ago.
I think many were thinking and perhaps even secretly hoping that this panel would be an 'on-the-edge-of-your-seat' heated debate with personal attacks because of Andrew's one-sided statements and his digs on Web 2.0 visionaries such as O'Reilly, Kelly, Anderson and Gillmor, who despite the attacks, showed up for this debate, but sat on the opposite side of the table.
While Gillmor participated with restraint during this public forum, he made sure that his thoughts about the factual inaccuracies of Keen's books were known, and pointed to Keen's own admission that he was an amateur in writing this book.
While I don't think the group offered enough solutions for how we handle the growing amateur content on the web, which is one of Keen's main points, everyone seemed to agree how important it is to teach kids critical thinking and how to build in a new BS meter for adults, particularly those new to the Internet. The playing field has dramatically changed and continues to do so.
As Gillmor pointed out, "If a teacher teaches critical thinking in this country, they'll be fired as a dangerous radical." So true. It resonated most when I thought of the differences between the professors at my American college just outside Boston and my British college in London, where critical thinking was primary.
One of the reasons we couldn't get clear about this topic (as a panel and audience) is because the issues raised are so emotional for both sides, i.e., the traditional media fading into the distance and the new media whose voice may have only been heard by their church or social communities before blogging emerged.
Says David Winer in his Blame the Bloggers post, "Keen's work is a book-length sneer at most of what we hold dear. He blames bloggers and podcasters for the demise of professional media, as if somehow we're responsible for the endless coverage of Anna Nicole Smith on cable news, for Judith Miller's complicity with the Bush White House, for the shameless way the press, without notable exception, hounded Howard Dean out of the 2004 presidential race. Of course we're not responsible for any of those horrors, and Keen should, somewhere in this book, consider that blogging might be an attempt to solve some of the problems caused by a vacuum of responsible high-integrity journalism."
Yes, its emotional -- "most of what we hold dear." Not everyone holds the blogosphere dear, but certainly those who have been doing it for years, do. We have a public voice now and can invoke a reaction, quite often on large media organizations or corporations when we call them on inaccuracies or product flaws.
Even more emotion and controversial debate over on Jeff Jarvis' blog about a week ago. At the end, we still don't have an answer, but we most definitely have an interesting conversation - a long one.
Audience participant Tim Bishop talked about the transition of 'the story' itself: "A story was a finished product in the old world -- now its the beginning of a story and a process." Kevin Kelly talks a lot about this as well.
Katie spoke about her passion for writing 'the story,' uncovering things she wouldn't have otherwise got close to or discovered the truth without a staff of editors and interns to help her along the way. She raised two stories she was particularly proud of: her eBay feature and a piece about what gets left behind. In other words, all the magical content that is not yet digitized. "If its not on Google, it gets dropped out. It no longer matters," she points out.
Gillmor pipes in, "The world started in 1984, when most archives went online. Sure, traditional journalism is in jeopardy, but I find this whole question to be framed wrong. It's not or, its and." Meaning, why not figure out a productive way for new media and old media to work together rather than casting blame on change that is inevitable?
Despite continued digs from panelists and the Web 2.0 community at large, Keen is honest about the goal of the book. "I'm naturally polemic." The book is a polemic, but Keen doesn't hide behind that.
He asserts that the other side of the argument has been heard again and again and again....and the potential dangers, flaws and issues around so much amateur content are not discussed or valued. "This is about the personalization of the Internet which is becoming more and more fragmented. It's really the cult of the anonymity. We're doing away with our identities by allowing people to be anyone."
Keen professes that he wanted to most annoy two groups:
--the libertarians on the left, i.e., the David Winers of the world, who he feels, use their blogs to wine and yell
--the libertarians on the right, i.e., the Chris Andersons of the world, the free market people....
Katie asks, "Is what you're really saying......nothing is believed so everything is believed...?"
"The world is not binary," says Gillmor. It is nuanced and complicated. No one is arguing that old media is perfect, but bloggers are not monkeys either. (a reference that Keen makes in his book). We're engaged in a process of finding our way. Journalism is being repositioned and I'm spending my life trying to do that."
Winer comments that he is unable to get his story into the NY Times. Many of us have tried to the same thing - some make the cut, some don't. Even editors who work at the Times have tried to get stories in and don't - isn't that a reflection of life? No, not in the new world where everyone is an author. This is what I think Keen struggles with most......if anyone and everyone can be an author, how do we know what is real, good or true?
Argues the blogosphere, "its all about critical thinking..." But outside of Berkeley and America's urban centers, people may not always have the tools or understand the importance of BS meters. We don't know what we don't know and I think its important to recognize this.
Gillmor says he has a credibility meter. For example, the NY Times may be a 7 or an 8, perhaps a 10 if he knows the writer. If a blogger posts an anonymous comment on a blog, he gives it an automatic negative credibility rating.
Sure, that's true for many of us, but what about people who don't operate in an information-rich world? Is that really an elitist view or is it merely reality? Depends on your viewpoint. I live in an information-rich world yet long for better tools and BS filters so I can find the exceptional, which is increasingly hard to find.
Katie references a trip she took to Louisiana where people she interviewed lumped all media together.....whatever gets printed is all evil, all fabulous, completely true or not true at all. That has been my experience as well, a far cry from the beliefs in Silicon Valley and higher education centers, another point I feel is left out of many of these conversations.
Keen and Gillmor agreed on one thing, as did the rest of the panel and it appeared, the audience as well: the need for a whole new kind of media literacy. "We have to do it," asserts Gillmor. "We need to learn how to use a BS meter in a completely new way."
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I wish I was at this event.
We had a similar event in Philadelphia last year that was focussed on news journalism and the web. It sounds like it covered related territory.
Fact of the matter is, there is room enough for numerous approaches to filtering/finding news.
Algorithmic - Memeorandum, Google News
By the crowd - Digg, Newsvine.
By a single unpaid editor - A blogger.
By communities of unpaid editors - A genre specific slice of the blogosphere.
By a news organization - A newspaper with staffed editors - Yahoo News, Salon, Slate.
By hybrid community/editor efforts - Slashdot, Indymedia.
There seems to be an effort on the parts of some to create some false conflicts between these approaches. To promote one approach over the other as the *ultimate solution*.
That's a shame really, because in the dust of that are people becoming less and less informed (check out the latest Pew research) while wealth and fortune flow from one kind of media organization to another.
We can do far better. All of us can. My bet is that will happen when groups of us decide to put down our guns and work together.
PS I posted this as well over at unionsquareventures (hope you don't mind the cross posted comment).
Posted by: Karl | May 22, 2007 5:24:29 AM
Renee, it's an anonymous comment on a blog that gets an automatic negative credibility rating, not a blog where the author identifies himself or herself.
And my continuing objection to the Keen book is not that it's a polemic or even unfair, but that it is riddled with misrepresentations and outright falsehoods. Dishonesty in service of making a point poisons the entire effort.
Posted by: Dan Gillmor | May 22, 2007 7:21:27 AM
Dan - Thanks for your clarification. I didn't realize you were referring to comments specifically when you referenced blogs versus NY Times. Will adjust that in my post.
Re: dishonesty in the book, despite the fact that I did read it in its entirety, I can't speak to what is false or inaccurate, but I agree, if there are inaccuracies, they should be pointed out as they will damage the credibility of this book, which I do think has some valid points.
Thx again for your comments...
Posted by: Renee Blodgett | May 22, 2007 11:23:55 AM
I think anonymity is tied to accountability and credibility, and I think blogs fall short in this area. Just because someone is not anonymous it doesn't mean they are accountable or credible. I think blogs are fun and interesting to a certain degree. They provide a new dimension of information, but I have more faith in some kind of a system where training, experience, skill and talent are essential ingredients to success. I participated in the debate a week ago with Jeff Jarvis and my BS meeter was spiking. I asked Jeff Jarvis a simple question about his educational background (a very logical question since he bills himself as a hot shot professor) and he gave me the most bizarre round-about answer that he would have had a master's degree if he had stayed in school longer. To me he seems like a fraud, yet he seems to hold a lot of credibility for some unknown reason (that even he can't explain). Perhaps you can explain it. Or do you really think it's just a matter of anonymity?
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