15 Seconds

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Response to: "Poison of parachute pants"

I considered going on a rant about how you couldn't really moniter standards of research and capability to any greater extent when the world of journalism was limited to print, and that internet access means that people can do background checks of their own if they bother to take two googling seconds.
The argument that "readers can do their own background research if they want to" is misleading because very few readers will actually wind up doing this. And while you might say that the fruit of laziness is ignorance, I'm more interested at the effects of blogging on society as a whole, not specific individuals. You have to accept humanity's weaknesses, such as laziness.

It's true that most "traditional" news media is biased, and the level of research is variable, but at least it was professional. Generally, when people spend most of their waking hours at a task, they at least try to take it seriously. Blogging, for the most part, is an amateur activity and there are very few conseqences to posting without research. Indeed, off-the-cuff, unrefined posts are applauded as being the natural use of the medium.

The rise of the "professional blogger" is interesting but ultimately a straw-man in this argument. Most (but not all) blogs present opinionated, unresearched viewpoints. I admit that this post is no exception. And, while good blogs tend to get larger readerships, most of what gets read is equally opinionated and unresearched. Overall, the quality of research and objectivity has significantly less than traditional media. This isn't too big a deal when blogs are an entertaining side-dish in your media line-up, but there is a very real chance that this new medium will come to dominate.
That this line here "Technology is allowing people to have access to things where before it required very great skill" vexes me on several levels because he seems to be seeing this as such a negative thing and i disagree that 'skill' was the barrier previously.
It's certainly defeatist to reject something new because of what is allows. For example, the music industry could only save itself by embracing file sharing, in the form of iTunes Music Store and its cousins. On the other hand, it's foolish to ignore the weaknesses that a new medium has, or the threats that it introduces.

The question, then, is this: how can we give people easy access to "professional" media through the new medium? My favourite solution would be a technical one: it should be feasible to develop automatied filters to assess the reputation of a piece of content. Google did this very successfully to the internet as a whole when it startd in 1998, using links as "votes" in a democratic selection of the most reputable content.

Current attempts at solutions include reddit, digg, and technorati. The results are mixed. What you tend to get is a pastiche of the ridiculous and the serious: a craigslist post offering PC repair services in exchange for boob fondling alongside news that Osama Bin Laden is dead. A triumph of news-as-entertainment. The downfall of overly simplistic democratic models is that this is exactly what most people want -- or at least, most people who are using these systems.

This is a step up from "the hegemony" giving us what they want us to have, but we've got a long way to go.

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