Where Are The Gatekeepers?

Eric Fehrnstrom gives an account of what Republican candidates faced from netroots activists in 2008 and in closing asks:

Where are the online gatekeepers? Gatekeeping is the most important function for the offline media. Editors decide which stories get published. They make sure rumors aren’t printed. Sensitive information is double- and sometimes triple-sourced. Gatekeeping serves an important purpose in establishing the ethics of journalism. Sadly, it doesn’t exist on the Web.

What can be done? Citizen-journalists and bloggers need to provide links to websites that contain factual data backing up their assertions. These connections add credibility. And while Internet libel suits can be difficult to win, they should be pursued more often.
Moreover, it would help if TV and newspapers resisted the temptation to get edgier in their own reporting. If you can’t be “first” with the rumors, be first with the most comprehensive and factual account. In the current Wild West state of political reporting, you will be rewarded with loyal readership in search of honest and objective coverage.

He’s not entirely wrong, though I think it’s naive to believe that many bloggers and other citizen-journalists will put forth that extra effort to confirm the facts of what they’re writing before the jump.  And that no one expects it from the other side means they won’t raise themselves up to provide it on their side.  Fire with fire.  But we have got to break from that mold.

As the internet comes of age in how its used during campaigns, more and more people are going to be asking the same question though: where are the gatekeepers?  What has gotten blogging and online activism this far is the lack of a gatekeeper – thousands of voices shouting so many things that once in a while one sticks.  Or a bunch of people starting to talk about the same thing, creating a story where there wouldn’t be one normally.

The media has proven to be gullible to these tactics.  But they’re starting to get burned, and a lot of blogging talking heads who try to sound and act professional but end up putting their foot in their mouth are going to find themselves locked out.

Since blogging’s not about to go away, gatekeepers will emerge as people realize who make up the cream of the crop and those people are promoted.  These individuals will be the self-policiers who put function before form and seek out the facts before fame.

This may take time, though.  Blogging is still new in terms of impact on media and elections.  Everyone is still getting a feel for how it works and what place citizen-journalists hold in the conversation.

It’s up to the citizen-journalist to help properly define their role, not by words but by acts.

The Millions: Haruki Murakami

The Millions has a great wrapup of Haruki Murakami in Berkley, CA.  Murakami is the author of such great works as Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and seems to give fascinating discussions.  One thing he said that stands out to me:

On his next novel: He finished it last week. Apparently, it’s going to be a doorstop. “I hope you’re not a commuter… The new novel is in the third person, from beginning to end. I need that room, because the story is getting more complicated. I need many perspectives.”

“I hope you’re not a commuter…”

A brilliant line, one that doesn’t mean commuting in the sense of the soul sucking waste of time spent between home and work and back day in and day out (not that I’m bitter about commuting) but a reader commuting into the mind of the narrator, putting himself into Murakami’s characters and world, something he typically achieves by using the first person in his work.  But there are limitations to the first person, bound to the thoughts and experiences of the narrator (if done correctly) and while that can create an attachment between reader and author the author can’t really tell other aspects of the tale or flesh out the world beyond the small view of the narrator.

Just the idea of “commuting” as a reader and author, that’s fantastic.

Bloggers Win A Lot Of Lawsuits

In an article concerning insurance and blogging, Christopher Boggs tosses out an interesting bit of information concerning lawsuits against bloggers:

Nearly 77 percent of ALL civil cases were found in favor of the blogger or saw the charges dropped by the plaintiff. And 92 percent of blog-related suits making it to trial end in blogger triumph (additional information availble at Media Law Resource Center). Odds at trial are overwhelmingly in the blogger’s favor, but there is no guarantee that this propensity towards blogger victory will continue.

As Boggs notes, nearly all of these victories have been on the grounds of the First Amendment. But that will only hold up as long as the bloggers themselves are responsible:

First Amendment protection requires, among other standards, bloggers, like journalists, to practice and prove due diligence in the gathering and reporting of “factual” information. Bloggers must also prove that no actual malice was intended by statements or information ultimately found to be incorrect or untrue. Opinions, stated as opinion and not fact, published by bloggers are also potentially immune from charges of libel under the First Amendment since there is no such thing as a false opinion.

The article specifically looks at a SLAPP, a lawsuit that is meant not necessarily to win but to scare others out of the conversation.  A “don’t talk or we’ll sue you, too,” type thing.  There are anti-SLAPP statutes in 27 states.  Virginia is not one of them.

But Is The Sentiment Genuine?

Yesterday I commented on Turkey’s recalling of their ambassador in face of a House resolution calling the Armenian Genocide an actual genocide (read the resolution here). The post pulled a good number of anonymous responses that tried to create excuses that either fell into the “what about the others that have suffered?” or the “they deserved it” categories as a defense for Turkey.

The second point has been based merely on accusations that have not been backed up by any links or citations. It is not even conjecture and, barring evidence to support such claims, is easily dismissed as propaganda. Besides, the non-binding resolution does nothing to blame the current Turkish government for what happened, though it does shed light on Turkey’s denial of the events even occurring and attempt at white washing their own history.

The first point is a bit more touchy and understandable, yet fails in the face of “two wrongs don’t make a right”. If an error has been made in one area, is it wrong to try and correct a similar area elsewhere? When someone says “what about the others that have suffered?” you’re absolutely right. That others have suffered the same should be addressed as well. Certainly that might keep us busy for a long time to come, but we should not ignore it. That we haven’t addressed every human atrocity over the last 100 years is unfortunate, but that does not mean we should avoid addressing any of them. One thing at a time. This time it’s Armenia.

One point the comments failed to make against the resolution is the political one.

Why now?

Many see this as a political ploy by Democrats in Congress to slow bleed our military in Iraq and force an early withdrawl. As the CNN article noted:

Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton, D-Missouri, sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi opposing the resolution, and said the backlash threatened by Turkey could disrupt “America’s ability to redeploy U.S. military forces from Iraq,” a top Democratic priority.

Turkey, a NATO member, has been a key U.S. ally in the Middle East and a conduit for sending supplies into Iraq.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Wednesday that good relations with Turkey are vital because 70 percent of the air cargo sent to U.S. forces in Iraq and 30 percent of the fuel consumed by those forces fly through Turkey.

U.S. commanders “believe clearly that access to airfields and roads and so on, in Turkey, would very much be put at risk if this resolution passes and the Turks react as strongly as we believe they will,” Gates said.

Bagis said no French planes have flown through Turkish airspace since a French Parliament committee passed a similar resolution last year.

This massacre occured 90 years ago. Why are we only now drafting resolutions calling it a genocide? Certainly they’re overdue, but if this is happening merely as a method of draining our efforts in Iraq, is the sentiment really genuine? Are the Armenians and Ottoman Christians who suffered merely to once more be political pawns?

I find myself torn. On one hand, a genuine recognition and discussion of what happened needs to occur. It was our failure to remain involved and care about the Armenian genocide that inspired Hitler’s plans in Europe.

Yet to remember what happened and recognize it merely to score a backdoor political victory on an unrelated issue is disengenuious and does nothing but dishonor the memory of those who suffered through these horrible events.

A recognition and discussion of the Armenian genocide needs to occur, especially within Turkey itself. But if this is merely an opportunity to grand stand on an issue that no one cared about until they realized the political victory it could achieve on an issue they can’t seem to win when facing it head on then it is a disservice not only to our soldiers in Iraq but the Armenian people.

If it is not happening for the right reasons is it worth happening at all?

Turkey Still Denying Genocide

Turkey has recalled its ambassador in protest of a House resolution that recognizes Turkey’s massacare of Armenians for what it was: genocide. The Armenian Genocide saw the Ottoman Empire kill anywhere from 500,000 to 1.5 million Armenians and Ottoman Christians during forced round-ups and deportations, measures that are thought to have inspired Hitler. What happened needs to be recognized, whether or not Turkey wants to face it’s own history.

UPDATE: The issue was large enough to be front page news at the time and pull American’s into the international community. See New York Times articles from the era, using the search terms “armenians massacre”.

The History Place has a summary of the 1915-1918 events.

Shirky On Data

Relating to my last post, Clay Shirky follows up yesterday’s essay with one that concludes as such:

As Scott Bradner put it, the Internet means you don’t have to convince anyone else that something is a good idea before trying it. The upshot is that the internet’s output is data, but its product is freedom.

What Andrew Keen seems to be trying to argue through “The Cult Of The Amateur” is that the data is not the problem but that there is no one filtering it. There are no editors or publishers to ensure quality or even accuracy. And it is dangerous to assume the general public can judge this themselves. If all you get is unfiltered, flawed data, at what point can you craft a solid, well rounded, well founded opinion or even begin to get the actual truth or definition of something?

Data is subjective and selective. The audience needs to have a source of solid, certifiable information that presents something as close to the truth as possible or it will never learn.

Data is not bad. It is the lack of a filter that is dangerous.

Currently Reading: The Cult Of The Amateur

Andrew Keen discusses the dangers Web 2.0 and mob rule. While I’m only a little ways into the book, so far his talk so far on blogging and Wikipedia and what it can do at its worst is very interesting. I don’t agree with some of his statements in the introduction on matters such as declining music sales related to piracy but I’ll give the rest of the book to flesh that out.

Excerpt available here. Choice cut:

Out of this anarchy, it suddenly became clear that what was governing the infinite monkeys now inputting away on the Internet was the law of digital Darwinism, the survival of the loudest and most opinionated. Under these rules, the only way to intellectually prevail is by infinite filibustering.

I’ve spent the last two years observing the Web 2.0 revolution, and I’m dismayed by what I’ve seen.

I’ve seen the infinite monkeys, of course, typing away. And I’ve seen many other strange sights as well, including a video of marching penguins selling a lie, a supposedly infinite Long Tail, and dogs chatting to each other online. But what I’ve been watching is more like Hitchcock’s The Birds than Doctor Doolittle: a horror movie about the consequences of the digital revolution.

Because democratization, despite its lofty idealization, is undermining truth, souring civic discourse, and belittling expertise, experience, and talent. As I noted earlier, it is threatening the very future of our cultural institutions.

I call it the great seduction. The Web 2.0 revolution has peddled the promise of bringing more truth to more people—more depth of information, more global perspective, more unbiased opinion from dispassionate observers. But this is all a smokescreen. What the Web 2.0 revolution is really delivering is superficial observations of the world around us rather than deep analysis, shrill opinion rather than considered judgment. The information business is being transformed by the Internet into the sheer noise of a hundred million bloggers all simultaneously talking about themselves.

Read the NYTimes review here.

Since contributors to Wikipedia and YouTube are frequently anonymous, it’s hard for users to be certain of their identity — or their agendas. Postings about political candidates, for instance, can be made by opponents disguising their motives; and propaganda can be passed off as news or information. For that matter, as Mr. Keen points out, the idea of objectivity is becoming increasingly passé in the relativistic realm of the Web, where bloggers cherry-pick information and promote speculation and spin as fact. Whereas historians and journalists traditionally strived to deliver the best available truth possible, many bloggers revel in their own subjectivity, and many Web 2.0 users simply use the Net, in Mr. Keen’s words, to confirm their “own partisan views and link to others with the same ideologies.” What’s more, as mutually agreed upon facts become more elusive, informed debate about important social and political issues of the day becomes more difficult as well.

Visit Andrew Keen’s site here.

Web 2.0: The Sleep Of Reason

Part I

The life of the mind in the age of Web 2.0 suffers, in many ways, from an increase in credulity and an associated flight from expertise. Bloggers are called “citizen journalists”; alternatives to Western medicine are increasingly popular, though we can thank our stars there is no discernable “citizen surgeon” movement; millions of Americans are believers in Biblical inerrancy—the belief that every word in the Bible is both true and the literal word of God, something that, among other things, pits faith against carbon dating; and, scientific truths on such matters as medical research, accepted by all mainstream scientists, are rejected by substantial numbers of citizens and many in politics.

Human beings learn, essentially, in only two ways. They learn from experience—the oldest and earliest type of learning—and they learn from people who know more than they do. The second kind of learning comes from either personal contact with living people—teachers, gurus, etc.—or through interaction with the human record, that vast assemblage of texts, images, and symbolic representations that have come to us from the past and is being added to in the present. It is this latter way of learning that is under threat in the realm of digital resources.

Part II

The flight from expertise is accompanied by the opposite of expertise—the phenomenon that Andrew Keen has called, in his new book of the same name, “the cult of the amateur.” This cult, says Keen, “worships the creative amateur: the self-taught filmmaker, the dorm-room musician, the unpublished writer. It suggests that everyone—even the most poorly educated and inarticulate amongst us—can and should use digital media to express and realize themselves.” He is referring to the impulse behind Web 2.0, but his words have a wider resonance—a world in which everyone is an expert in a world devoid of expertise.

Interesting reading. I hope to have more thoughts once I have time to digest this.

Times-Dispatch on Blogging

“The audience just has to realize that a blog is more akin to the op-ed page of their newspaper as opposed to the front page,” Kenney said.

Well, earlier this week a happy little e-mail floats into my inbox from the Richmond Times Dispatch asking if I’d like to be interviewed about Virginia bloggers. And I figure, sure, why not. Besides, it’s probably a blanket e-mail and I’ll just get lost in the crowd.

Well, I wasn’t. Todays article in the Times Dispatch:

Blogging is easier than sending e-mails to your friends about that new restaurant you checked out last weekend, and it’s cheaper than making long-distance phone calls to your college-student brother in California. You don’t have to be a computer geek to blog. All you need is a computer, a modem and a few thoughts to share.

And blogs are like snowflakes: No two are the same. One blogger may be careful to include research and diverse points of view in his posts. Another will be tantamount to verbal diarrhea, “like a tabloid, all splash and trash,” Richmond blogger Jason Kenney, 26, said.

Heh, while I didn’t use the term “verbal diarrhea”, I wish I had.

Some bloggers believe the medium will overtake mainstream media (“MSM”) in the near future, rendering obsolete most newspapers and TV news. Others disagree, arguing there’s room – and need – for blogs and traditional news media.

“I think what people need to keep in mind is that blogs are not true journalism,” Walters said.

VCU professor Jeff South, who teaches classes in media ethics and in communications technology, said most blogs don’t contain any original reporting; rather, bloggers rely on mainstream media for fodder.

“Blogs tend to be so anti-establishment and anti-mainstream media, and yet they really need the mainstream media to feed off of,” he said. “In this brave new world of new media, the good news is that everyone can participate, and the bad news is that everyone can participate.”

It’s difficult to say whether blogs are an important part of communications, South added, because they vary so widely.

“Blogs can be very amateurish, unethical hack jobs, and blogs can be highly professional, authoritative journalism,” South said.

There is a gray area, though. Recently, some newspapers and TV news outlets have caught on to the blogging trend, adding staff-written blogs to their Web site or even inviting readers to create their own blogs. For example, The Greensboro (N.C.) News & Record has more than a dozen blogs written by staffers that include the behind-the-scenes details of local news stories.

“The audience just has to realize that a blog is more akin to the op-ed page of their newspaper as opposed to the front page,” Kenney said.

Check out the article for more.

Now, for the sake of total disclosure or what not, I give to you my full response to Ms. Akin’s questions:

> Name, age, job (if you want to tell us):
Name: Jason Kenney
Age: 26
Job: Currently a full-time student at VCU and I work part time shipping and receiving at Virginia Book Company. I started blogging as a receptionist for a lawfirm in downtown DC.

> Blog site:
J’s Notes (http://jsnotes.blogspot.com)

> How long have you been blogging?
Since August of 2001.

> Why did you decide to blog?
I decided to blog in order to have a central location for friends and family to get information on me as people began to grow up and on in life.

> Does your blog have a theme?
I wouldn’t say there’s a unifying theme to J’s Notes–it’s just a bunch of random links and news mixed with a bit of personal information and opinions. For a while there was a focus on politics and news in particular, especially with covering events in downtown DC (IMF and anti-war protests). But it has come back to just links and occasional updates on the life and times of me.

> How often do you blog?
I try to update J’s Notes daily, though sometimes I miss while other times I end up tossing up ten or more posts in a day. Depends on having the time and my mood, really.

> Is the site for your friends and family, or do others read? Do they respond to your posts?
With the content being a lot of links and news, the potential audience is anyone, but it currently entertains my friends and family. There was a time when the audience was wider than that, pulling in assorted bloggers and random readers, but after I took some time off from blogging in 2004 that audience moved on.

> Do you regularly read other peoples’ blogs? How many?
I usually check out about a dozen or so blogs every day, ranging from family blogs to news and link blogs where I get some of my content (since blogging really turns out to be a lot of shared information anyway). Daily must reads include Instapundit (http://www.instapundit.com), Commonwealth Watch (http://commonwealthwatch.blogspot.com/), The Beat (http://www.comicon.com/thebeat/) and others.

> What is the “future of blogs”? And how do you think they fit in to the world of “information dissemination” (for lack of a better term)?
I think the “future of blogs” is going to look a lot like the present, only used by a wider market. For example, there has been a large push lately to see blogs used more in the business sector for customer support, news, insights and such, and I think you’ll start to see more of that as the internet continues to evolve. And while some news bloggers believe that blogs are the future and that the mainstream media (MSM to some) is a dinosaur, I don’t agree. I think you may see an increased used of blogs by journalists, but only for them to have forums for their own thoughts. News blogs need the structured, reviewed, and editorially overseen MSM in order to survive–or rather, fulfil their purpose.

As for “information dissemination” I think blogs have a limited place in filling that need, mainly because of the bias of the blogger as well as the audience. This relates greatly to your next question:

> Is a blog a valid source of information, or more just a place to unload your thoughts?
Like any source of information, validity is entirely dependent on the filter of your source. Some bloggers are more akin to an encyclopedia, taking their time on their presentation of information through research and patience and presenting a thoughtful post that covers all the bases. Others are much like a tabloid, all splash and trash with unfounded statements, citation of questionable sources, and contradictions every other post (or even within a post).

Most, thankfully, fall between these two categories. However, mistaking one for the other is not really the issue since your average internet savvy person can distinguish between them (though there are still those who believe “anything on the internet is true”, a concept which will ideally pass like “anything seen on television is true”).

With that said, blogs represent many different areas of interest, from politics to programming to random links to gaming, and so on. To an extent they provide information to their audience in as much as they provide what information they WANT to share. The internet is a great service where people can find out nearly everything about anything with the click of a mouse. But it also leads to people purposefully (though perhaps not consciously) selectively educating themselves. An internet user can choose to only visit certain sites for all of the information they want or need on a particular topic, never having to even entertain the notion of other ideas existing.

It’s a trap some blogs fall into and feed. Many bloggers associate their sites with those of like minded bloggers or news sources, linking to them, sharing information from them, and then redirecting their audience to those other sites. This bias turns
most blogs into nothing more than journals of opinion, even when they link to news articles or information from objective sources. It is their decision to share some of this information over others that creates their slant.

Their audience may believe this and swear by it, getting their information only from this source and never entertaining alternative news, views or even the truth. As I said, the internet provides people the means of finding the information they want to find, the stuff that they want to hear, and they can just keep coming back, never having to deal with those other sites that don’t speak their language.

This also limits the effectiveness of a blog spreading information because their audience ends up containing only like minded individuals, a situation where they are simply preaching to the choir any time they have a thought or even an actual news event or fact that should perhaps get more attention and coverage.

After looking over my response I realize that I’ve taken a fairly negative view of blogs when that’s not really how I feel. Blogs are great supplemental information to the world. Whether in providing more through observations on a political view or a book or how something works, Blogs can help to educate their audience on many things they might not find out otherwise. The danger exists of a reader falling into the trap of what Cass Sustein called “Daily Me” in Republic.com, but that is not a problem with Blogs. The audience just has to realize that a blog is more akin to the oped page of their news paper as opposed to the front page.

With that said, I’ve always been under the impression that blogs in and of themselves aren’t too entirely revolutionary. There have been many means for sharing personal information available on the web since it’s mainstream birth. Forums, websites, chat rooms, mailing lists, they’re all there. What is revolutionary about blogs is the system behind them, the publishing software like Blogger or MoveableType, because they make the quick and easy sharing of information as simple as pushing a button.

But blogs are really no different than journals or diaries, like what you find at LiveJournal. It’s all about how one uses them.

Also, the article opens with talking about a Matt Walters. I think I know that guy from high school…

UPDATE: The Virginia Blogosphere comments:

Commonwealth WatchHopefully they’ll do a follow-up or two on political blogs.
One Man’s TrashIt’s not a terribly good article, seeing that its focus seems to be largely on bloggers found in an around VCU.
Commonwealth Conservative

And I can’t argue with that. A more thurough article would have been nice, covering not only the big guns of Virginia blogging, but Virginia bloggers on the national scene, like Meryl Yourish and others. But I get the feeling that this was done in three or four days (since I was e-mailed on Wednesday). Maybe there will be a political follow-up, especially with state elections around the corner.

UPDATE 2: The Matt Walters in the article IS the same Matt Walters I hung out with for a bit back in high school. Small world. Yeah, yeah, I’m only an hour away from my high school, but still.

Speak Loudly and Watch For That Big Stick

So I get off my bus to find a ton of cops standing in formation in McPhereson Square and a protest going on at Vermont/15th and K Streets…

So I get off my bus to find a ton of cops standing in formation in McPhereson Square and a protest going on at Vermont/15th and K Streets (I think it was the “Put The Squeeze On Capitalist Greed March” that started in Franklin Square at 14th and I streets around 7:30am). I went into the CVS and bought a couple of disposable cameras. By the time I got back outside, the police had moved in (a broken window at the CitiBank where the protesters stood was probably the reason).

I started taking pictures as the police broke up the protest. Someone set off a smoke bomb or a stink bomb of some sor (I eventually heard it was tear gas). The group of journalists and onlookers that crowded the police started to back away. Someone said something about pepper spray. Either way, the police quickly worked to break up whatever protest was going on.

People were backed up across the street into McPhereson Square while the police cleared out the protesters. They were put in plastic cuffs and then led onto two Metro busses and then taken somewhere.

A crowd stuck around to watch, protesters mixed in with journalists and bystanders. Now, here’s something I don’t get. The protesters off to the side, still protesting, holding their signs, hiding their faces, playing “Fight The Power” on their tape deck, if you’re so adamant about your cause and what you’re trying to push here, why aren’t you with those other guys getting arrested? Where were you when the cops came in? Running? Hiding? Or did you just arrive? I got more respect for the folks who are willing to stand their ground and get arrested than for the people who run away or come in afterwards to continue their protest. If you’re not willing to go down for what you believe in, how much do you believe in it?

Oh well. PICTURES!!!

There are 15 pictures, please give them time to load…
(NOTE: The following pictures are the property of Jason Kenney and their use without permission is prohibited. If you want to use one of these pictures for anything, just ask, I’ll probably say yes.)

As I approached

Another view

A closer look

Something’s happening

Tear gas!!!!

Everyone cleared out

The police kinda dug the extra room

So they started pushing everyone back

A few more quick shots

Nothing over there

The crowd I’d be joining shortly

One last close look

Everyone, on the bus!

The bus leaves, full of protesters

The police keep everyone back (probably my best shot)

People looking on

The corner’s now empty

And the police line up to go bust some more heads

These pictures were taken with two disposable CVS Photostar Flash Cameras with 400 speed film and developed by Ritz Camera One Hour Photo.