20 March 2009

Welcome to the New (Networked) News

There's some fine writing coming out of the current newspaper crisis. Here's some more, from one of the my favourite thinkers, Yochai Benkler. He's replying here to an earlier article in The New Republic; two paragraphs in particular caught my attention:

Critics of online media raise concerns about the ease with which gossip and unsubstantiated claims can be propagated on the Net. However, on the Net we have all learned to read with a grain of salt between our teeth, like Russians drinking tea through a sugar cube. The traditional media, to the contrary, commanded respect and imposed authority. It was precisely this respect and authority that made The New York Times' reporting on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq so instrumental in legitimating the lies that the Bush administration used to lead this country to war. Two weeks ago and then last Friday, The Washington Post was still allowing George Will to make false claims about the analysis of a scientific study of global sea ice levels without batting an eyelid, reflecting the long-standing obfuscation of the scientific consensus on the causes of climate change by newspapers that, in the name of balanced reporting, reported the controversy rather than the actual scientific consensus. On some of these, the greatest challenges of our time, newspapers have failed us. The question then, on the background of this mixed record is whether the system that will replace the mass mediated public sphere can do at least as well.

Absolutely: newspaper have their virtues, but as Benkler says, they certainly have their vices too. So criticising potential weakness in nascent news forms is perilously close to pots calling the kettle black.

This other point also struck a chord (well, it would do, wouldn't it?):

Like other information goods, the production model of news is shifting from an industrial model--be it the monopoly city paper, IBM in its monopoly heyday, or Microsoft, or Britannica--to a networked model that integrates a wider range of practices into the production system: market and nonmarket, large scale and small, for profit and nonprofit, organized and individual. We already see the early elements of how news reporting and opinion will be provided in the networked public sphere.

In other words, welcome to the new news: it's the future.

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