Saturday, May 9, 2009

Information Blackhole

One of the advantages of New Media, I suppose, is that it opens up the dialog to more voices.

That carries its own risks, such as the bald racism and ignorance that seem rampant on the internet.

Maybe that's the price we pay for leveling the playing field and opening the door for a wider range of perspectives.

Journalists may be faulted for fencing themselves in and creating an exclusive club, accessible only to those with the proper credentials, but their "gatekeeping" role, for all of its faults, has been a huge public service, especially when it filters out false information, maligning and name-calling, and fosters intelligent and open discussion.

Arianna Huffington
, as you probably know, recently enthused on Capitol Hill the emerging class of online citizen journalists, who will allegedly take up the slack where the real pros have all but disappeared.

For now, I remain a skeptic.

Will citizen journalists have the resources and determination to doggedly pursue corrupt public officials? Will they have the skill and support to ferret out the Cunninghams and Abramoffs of the world?

As newsrooms have continued to diminish, and news pages have gotten thinner, I worry that an enormous information black hole is forming.

So far as I can tell, the transition from print to digital news has done little to improve the quality of information available to the average citizen.


  1. I think we can agree that journalists did not make any effort to filter out the false information put out by the Bush Administration in the run-up to the Iraq War. Quite the contrary. For those of us who culled information from the internet, the information available was quite generous and in correct contradiction to the war-cheerleading and fearmongering of the mainstream media . The issue was not really the quality of the journalism, though. It was the fact that the media conglomerates are corporate-owned monoliths that don't feel they have to answer to the public at large and don't serve their interests. In general, whichever media are the most popular will eventually be usurped by these same people, who have an interest in keeping the status quo. The past few years have been a narrow window to allow for some free-flow of information. Quality control on the internet is not all that difficult. You follow sites for awhile and you can see which ones are putting out reliable information. You don't have to have only "citizen journalists." There are plenty of internet websites with large staffs of individuals doing very good journalism. They are certainly doing a better job than Fox News, CNN and the networks at getting to the heart of important news stories.

  2. No doubt the corporate media failed miserably in their watchdog role to spotlight the false, misleading information the Bush Administration used to lead the U.S. into a war with Iraq.

    This failure illustrates the importance of an open society in which the media are free, in fact have a responsibility, to uncover graft and keep government in check.

    I hope that in the shadow of once-formidable newspapers like the LA Times (decimated in the last five years by cuts and the loss of half of its editorial staff of 1,200), the New Media will bring the light of more enterprising and investigative journalism.

    Otherwise, we're as much in the dark as ever….

    I think the jury is still out on this.

  3. I think this says it all:

  4. Stacey, Here's a pretty good article from an entertainment reporter at Variety that confirms some of what you say:

    "How I Got Blogged Down," by Mike Fleming

  5. "Writing with more compassion" would certainly go a long way toward improving the quality of much blogging.

    There's a time and place for strong language and critical comment but so much of it online is mean-spirited.

    Fortunately, we have at least a few controls to moderate the kind of dialog that occurs on our blogs, which provide some of the gatekeeping features that editors have used in print for years.

    Thanks for the link.

  6. Contrary has resisted having forums for this reason.

    The meanspirited stuff usually shows up on open forums, where people can flame others anonymously and with impunity. There are ways of encouraging a more civil dialogue, such as having comments appear on a different page from the main article, requiring people to sign in, encouraging them to use their full names, logging IP addresses, etc.