Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Echo Chamber Redux

Tonight was the opening session of the Media Giraffe Project Inaugural Conference on the changing role of journalism and how it relates to maintaining our democratic system (or at least I think that's part of what it's about...)

and all I can say is that when you get a bunch of media men together who all know each other, you can bet that they're going to re-hash all the problems from the 2000 election, bitch and moan about all the trouble with George Bush, keep the mics among themselves, and pat each other on the back about what wonderful jobs they're doing.

Be that as it may, all I can say is that big media is no less responsible for creating echo chambers than bloggers. In fact, they're just as bad. Got to hand it to Jeff Jarvis and Vin Crosbie for keeping the echo chamber going (although Vin gave it a shot to keep it less echo-centric.) We were supposed to be talking about the future of media, not the foilbles of a past presidential election.


However, Helen Thomas' speech (and the Q&A) earlier in the evening was very interesting! To hear what she had to say about the way the White House Press Corps used to be was--well, like a history lesson. But one that was a grim reminder of how far we have come *from* the 20th century in a short period of time. The events of 9/11 have caused the press corps to roll over and die--and take the democratic party with them. The political situation is "rudderless, leaderless and have lost our way" and the problem in journalism is that "anything goes and there's no standard on accuarcy and truth."

She didn't have kind words for bloggers--once again stating how they're not reporters (mostly because they don't verify their sources--but that's not totally true)....and it seemed that she really wasn't all that familiar with the medium.

But I wasn't expecting that from Helen Thomas. (a podcast of Helen's evening dinner talk, recorded by Wayne McPhail, can be found at theRabble Podcast Network) Helen isn't a decision-maker in the big media process. Helen is, though, a vital part of its history.

I was, though, expecting a few kind words from the panel--esp. after Jay Rosen's piece this a.m. on "the people formerly known as the audience."

Tonight though it seemed like conversation was for "the journalists formerly known as the people." There was lots of handwringing over the past, and little talk about the future. There was some praise for Times Select with only the barest of acknowledgement that its best columnists are no longer part of the conversation in the blogosphere...

Overall, it seemed like nobody wanted to talk about the conversation in the blogosphere. All they wanted to do was say "those bloggers!" and say how so many aren't truly reporting (maybe we're having conversation--duh!) and nobody really wanted to talk about why citizens are forming citizen journalism sites...with the exception of Jay, who brought out the fact that some regions have such piss-poor coverage that citizens need to jump in and do *something*.

I wonder if Jay spent any time around here in W. Mass, he'd feel that way...

I think what bothers me the most is that this bunch of folks--like most media folks--just do not get that the citizens doing citizens media are not a bunch of gomers with no teeth. Most are very educated. Some even have a smattering of journalism in their backgrounds (if I dig back far enough, I have it, too. It's like finding an irish relative in your otherwise un-irish gene pool.) There is also very little understanding of small-town life, how many people know the goings on and history of towns, and if you get it wrong, they'll let you know. The audience are your fact checkers (as Lise LePage and Chris Grotke told me about their work out in Brattleboro.)

They also pooh-poohed Grace Sullivan, who spoke up about a lack of newspapers in public schools--but how kids in tony private schools all have their own subscriptions to the New York Times. They also refused to address the issue that there are inconsistencies between print and online versions of the same story. This is true and happens often. I've found it in the Times, and my friend Bill Anderson also found it in the Times (with John K. Galbraith's obit).

I know what Grace is talking about. When kids at public schools don't read papers any more than they can scan a piece of poetry, you can bet none of them will make it to Princeton.

So, to use a crude colloquialism: don't piss on our shoes and tell us it's raining.

Shava Nered, who I met at Beyond Broadcast, Grace and I were talking afterward, and Shava mentioned how she felt offended--basically by the ignorance of the panelists about blogging. I, too, was offended because other than Theresa Hannifin, nobody got that blogs aren't necessarily about reporting--but they are often about conversation.

I was going to ask the panel if any of them ever did Technorati vanity searches just to see if anyone was linking to their stuff--and if they found the links, would they engage the person in conversation. I later asked Theresa about this, and she laughed. She said she doubted most of them knew what a Technorati search is, let alone do one. And interact with a blogger?? Heaven forbid!

Oh, and if the Boston Globe taked Jon Garfunkel up on his stupid idea of Globe Select, there's going to be some serious squaking. Jon doesn't seem to want to acknowledge that Times Select not only removes its columnists from conversation in the blogosphere, but also makes their work inaccessable to those who do not have the money to pay for the service. What Jon doesn't seem to remember is that when most newspapers originally set up their online presence, that presence was only meant to be a gateway or promotion for the main site. The gateway was never meant to become the main portal. Now, all efforts to monetize are short-sighted, back-handed efforts to play catch-up on a boat that left the dock sometime ago. There is no clear evidence that monetizing now will help a struggling paper--but it certainly will deny access for a good sector of the populace who cannot affor the service

I don't think Jon understands that this is a form of social stratification of information--because there are few public libraries who are willing to pony up for Times Select, even though they are still buying the more reliable print version...Guess all readers are created equal, but some readers are more equal than others...Correction Staci Kramer and I were speaking, and she very courteously corrected my take on Times Select. Schools that get academic subscriptions do indeed get Times Select.

Until big media gets over its overinflated sense of self-importance and begins to listen to The People in the Room (who have more to tell them than their stats), there will only be more echo chambers like tonight and little in the way of real conversation.

I will be interested to see how it all unfolds tomorrow...


Anonymous said...

Densmore introduced Helen Thomas inviting her to relate cutsie stories from her youth. To her credit she instead launched into a blistering attack of the Iraq debacle. You go girrrl.

Thomas rightly points out that the White House press corps (with notable exceptions) has by and large abdicated its watchdog role. If she lives long enough (and I hope she does) she'll probably come to see the value of the blogosphere for holding feet to fire. That is if the bloggers themselves don't lurch into mass distraction.

The war and the war machine are the central issues of our day. Every one of us should be doing what we can to hold the criminals in power accountable.

Seeing how Alito and Roberts are voting makes me really sick. When is the American public going to wake up?

Thomas is doing her bit and I applaud her.

Tish Grier said...

oh, I def. agree that what Thomas did, and how she spoke was important...

yet I always wonder how much hype is given to how much bloggers are hurting dialogue. To me, they're part of the dialogue. Then again, when people say "those bloggers" I wonder exactly which bloggers they're talking about. Not every blogger has a huge community and and a wildly contentious comments section. What alot of bloggers are doing is conversation. That, to our credit (yes, I think of myself as a blogger) demonstrates that we are not "zombies." (the W.H.Press Corps may be, but we're not.)

I don't know why it's so difficult for so many people, not only Thomas, to understand that the bulk of bloggers--Technorati's Magic Middle--are having conversation and that conversation is good! The conversations show me that America is awake. We just haven't figured out what, exactly, to do yet, and part of that has to do with lacking leadership. There's just so much the people can do before congressional and senatorial paternalism kicks in and we're patted on the head, yet again and told we don't know what's good for us.

Anonymous said...

Maybe I'm old school. But I still haven't totally accepted that the medium is the message. I still like to think that the message is the message.