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[berkman] Dan Gillmor on journalism supply and demand

Dan Gillmor is giving a Berkman lunch on media literacy.

NOTE: Live-blogging. Getting things wrong. Missing points. Omitting key information. Introducing artificial choppiness. Over-emphasizing small matters. Paraphrasing badly. Not running a spellpchecker. Mangling other people’s ideas and words. You are warned, people.

He whips through a history of media, from stone age to now, in about ten seconds. He cycles through a dozen sites doing interesting work, compressing twenty minutes of his normal talk to about 20 seconds. He says he’s no longer very worried about the supply of good journalism.

He says the question of “Who is a journalist?” is the wrong one to ask. Better to ask “What is journalism?” It’s an And, not an Or, situation. NGOs and individuals have been doing good reporting. The best reporting on Guantanamo has come from the ACLU, not from professional journalists. As Clay Shirky says, there’s no barrier any more between ideas and action. Try things out, let them fail, try again. Dan quickly shows some student projects at ASU, where he teaches, ProPublica, NYTimes APIs, etc. “I’m just pretty sure we’re going to get enough journalism.” But, says Dan, that doesn’t solve the quality problem.

He says he is really worried about demand. There’s too much information. Not all of it is accurate, including info in the mainstream media. “The ecosystem is in bad need of repair.” He talks about principles for “consumers” (he puts it in quotes) and suppliers.

For news consumers, he says we need skepticism and judgment. We need to have our “bullshit meter” working all the time. “It’s a mistake to think of credibility as starting at zero.” We should be thinking of it as having a negative starting point. Anonymous comments start with negative credibility. “They’d have to work really hard to get to no credibility.” Sometimes there’s something good in there, but …

Anonymous speech is crucial, Dan says. It’d be a big mistake to try to ban it. “It’s a bad idea” to refuse to stand behind your words in most cases, but it’s crucial when we need it. People should assume that a personal anonymous attack on someone is a lie. Assume it’s false.

Another principle: Do research. Ask your own questions, especially when making big decisions. E.g., Wikipedia is often the best place to start, and usually the worst place to stop. Dan says that WP is getting better and better and becoming one of the most valuable sources of info on the planet.

Another principle: Get outside your own comfort zone. E.g., Global Voices.

Another principle: Question your own beliefs. Dan used to keep a list of things he believes, and every six months he’d relentlessly attack it. E.g., these days he’s thinking Google is getting worrisome, doing things that are “anti-trust worthy” [nice pun!] He needs to revisit and ask if that trend is true.

Finally, we need to learn the techniques by which media is created and manipulates us. Sourcewatch, NewsTrust, MediaCritic (for Phoenix AZ)

The principles for journalists include all of the above, plus: Asking the readers what they know; thoroughness; accuracy; fairness (enabling right of hyperlinked reply); independence; transparency. Dan’s example of the need for transparency: The NYT won a Pulitzer for exposing the Pentagon’s coopting of military experts showing up on TV shows in the run-up to the Iraq War, but the network news did not mention that when covering the Pulitzers. Transparency means “you’ll be believed less but trusted more.”

Dan is creating a users guide, under the name mediactivecom. It’ll be a book and a site. He’s also exploring the nature of books. Perhaps the slower moving stuff will be in the book and the faster stuff will be online. He’ll write it entirely in public.

Q: Is the media organization the right unit of trust? Maybe we trust the NYT for tech reporting but not on Iraq…
A: Yes. There are reporters who I trust and others I don’t so much. And good reporters sometimes get things wrong. We’re looking for people to help us develop systems that combine population and reputation, and reputation is an incredibly complicated word…

Q: Your principles for journalists look like an updated version of the professional code of ethics for journalists. The code hasn’t been updated since 1996. Maybe that’s a framework for you…
A: One of my beefs with the NYT and WaPo is how routinely they violate their own standard. BTW, you’ll notice the word objectivity occurred nowhere in my presentation.

Q: I’m worried that money + anonymity (or fake identity) means that people can be shills. And someone who has to work all day can’t contribute as much to citizen efforts.
A: It’s going to be messy. But we’ll have more good things. Manipulation via money is not a new problem. Relentless media criticism is the best sunlight. I don’t know if it’ll be enough. As far as the inability to participate: There will be various scales. Most people can’t do media criticism all day. They have a life. People are now aware that if the see something newsworthy and they have a cellphone camera, they should record it. They don’t all know what to do next, and that’s an area for education.

Q: At our university, all students must take media literacy. Do you have advice for students.
A: I wonder if it’s too late by college. We need to do this when kids are young. But to teach critical thinking in grade schools would get you fired as a dangerous radical in half the school districts.

Q: (eszter) Even if we agreed that literacy is something we need, it’s not clear whose jurisdiction it falls under.
A: I know of one university that has a course devoted to this required of all students: U NY Stony Brook.

Q: The best media criticism today is on Comedy Central. We need the political will to do this work.
A: The Daily Show has some of the best criticism of television news, but that’s a very narrow part of journalism in terms of its content. You want to see bad news watch local tv news.

(lisa williams) What happens when local newspapers go?
A: I challenge your assumption that there will be no daily paper in the top 50 cities in the US. There’s still a business to be had in print journalism for some period of time (but not forever). The problem is most of these guys have so much debt. If the Boston Globe goes, within weeks there will be two smaller newspapers that will be better than the Metro. They won’t be comprehensive. There will be no lack of information, though it’ll be harder to find the things that trust. Messiness is not something merely to fear.

Q: (cbracy) How do some sites/papers get past zero in credibility? E.g., Talking Points Memo
A: From the beginning, TPM told you who he was, stood behind his works, had some journalistic background. Then, over time, it’s earned our trust.
Q: Rush Limbaugh uses his own name …
A: But an important criterion is that what you say is true. I have nothing against Fox existing. I just despise the slogan “Fair and balanced” because it’s a lie. We’re never going to agree on everything, so the reputation system needs to include knowing the opinion of people who broadly think about the world as I do but also what people who don’t think the way I do, because I want to make sure that I read that to. I prefer the uncomfortable world of nuance and uncertainty than one to which we simply accept the news as given.

Q: (harry lewis) Where is the right place to teach people not to beleive anonymous stuff?
A: The best single thing we could do to have better journalism is to have journalist be covered by some other journalism. It sure as hell made me better. It a smart world, getting burned would not be the way you learn. But for some period of time, people are going to have to be burned by believing something anonymous and telling their friends. It’ll take a generation…

People will miss the current newspapers because they are a unifying force. Also, what about objectivity>
A: Objectivity is a nice ideal that is hopelessly impractical. The principles I outlined add up to something better. No one should ever believe only one media source. And, no, I’m not happy about the dissolution of forces that gave us some common ground. But I see all these self-organize things happening… Before it’s over, everyone will have heard Susan Boyle sing. We have a better chance of figuring things out now that the information accretes over time to a place where there’s more clarity. And, by the way, I do not buy the echo chamber idea; I think that’s easier to do in the era of broadcasting.

Q: (darius) I’m skeptical. Aren’t lazy users aren’t lazy. They work hard all day and then want to be entertained
A: They’re not lazy in their lives, but they’re being lazy in what they believe about the news. The era of mass media has encourage an intellectual and civic laziness that’s dangerous. We all to take more responsibility for knowing what we know.

Q: You’re worried that the demand side isn’t strong enough. Even if every university had a course in media literacy, but the 2/3’s of the country that doesn’t go to university …
A: There’s lot of work going on in media literacy at all levels of education. I avoid the phrase “media literacy” because it works better than Ambien in putting people to sleep. It has to start with parents. Journalists should have been working on this for years; it would have given them a reason for existing.

[Posted without being re-read. Sorry!] [Tags: ]

3 Responses to “[berkman] Dan Gillmor on journalism supply and demand”

  1. Many people have repeatedly pointed out that while there is nothing wrong with this sermon, there’s nothing past a sermon either :-(.

  2. […] so much clutter on the Web, I want my Web site to stand out. While searching the Web for inspiration I came across […]

  3. […] David Weinberger live-blogged my recent talk at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society: “Dan Gillmor on journalism supply and demand.“ […]


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