This month’s Carnival of Journalism asks “considering your unique circumstances what steps can be taken to increase the number of news sources?”
Although I formed the question, I’m going to play a little devil’s advocate and potentially get derailed. I thought about writing on Spot.Us but that just seems like the obvious thing for me to do. There is also an application in the Knight News Challenge where I’m a co-applicant, but I don’t want to write about it just yet as I’m not sure how public the other party wants to be. So instead – I want to look into an assumption of this question and potentially get lost along the way.
There is an assumption in the question that increasing the number of news sources is positive. That’s a statement I more or less stand behind and has been a driving force in my career. With Spot.Us, for example, we have helped people that might not otherwise commit acts of journalism to get the confidence and support to do so.
Jeff Jarvis picks up this thread in a recent post “It’s not all about content and work.” Another way to phrase it – journalism isn’t just about being a storyteller – but being a story-enabler.
Fair enough. I think Jarvis makes a great argument. One I’ve made before as well using baseball instead of basketball as the analogy. So while I’m on the same page with Jeff, I also believe there is a concentration of power which is self-defeating mostly because we fail to recognize it.
There is a tension between being a source of news and the means of producing/sharing the news. At a reecent J-lab event somebody referred to Facebook as a “Gutenberg type invention.” I couldn’t disagree more vehemently. Whereas Gutenberg distributed power I see Facebook as leveraging the disruption from an invention and creating a new bottleneck of power.
Let’s do a quick overview of three stops in history through the lens of “information is power.”
- Pre-Gutenberg: To have information/power you needed to be literate and have access to books. A high barrier. Thus, power is very concentrated mostly among clergy, monarchs, etc.
- Post-Gutenberg: Access to books became cheaper. Literacy was still a highish barrier for a good chunk of the population. More important in terms of information power is the saying: “The power of the press belongs to those who own one.” Power became slightly decentralized, but the invention of the printing press didn’t drastically change the power structure of who could decimate information. There was still a high barrier to publish. You had to have access to capital ie: bourgeoisie. If you weren’t – the most you could achieve was being able to read and access books. A powerful movement forward, but not truly empowering.
- Post-World Wide Web: Tim Berners Lee is far closer to a Gutenberg than Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook. In modern times literacy rates are relatively high (we can always do better) and the ability to find information has dropped to near zero since we don’t need hard-bound books. Unlike the printing press the average persons’ ability to publish ideas has also dropped to near $0. Yea for the Internet revolution!!!
I’m going to invoke Matt Thomspon who imagined the “speakularity” as a time in the future when automatic speech transcription will become fast, free, and decent. What I imagine is a time in the future when the manipulation of database structures are drag and drop. I don’t just mean Drupal out of the box. I mean so simple my mother could do it (to put this in perspective I had to do video tutorials for her on how to use Gmail).
I know there are ways to create drag and drop mock-ups. There are also tools that let you do drag and drop surveys (Google Form). I want to see these combined and on steroids. So powerful that all I have to do is buy a domain and on my personal computer use this software to create a dynamic site connected to a real database of my choosing. Afterwards, the Internet will make me breakfast. I like my eggs over-easy.
I realize it’s a sci-fi scenario (even before the breakfast part) but it seems like the next logical step to further spread the power of information. Now you can do more than use other people’s platforms to publish. You can create your own platform from scratch. Thing Ning – but not sucking and more open.
So the question started out: “considering your unique circumstances what steps can be taken to increase the number of news sources.”
In the end I gave my own sci-fi answer. While it doesn’t take into consideration my “unique circumstances” or skills, it is a scenario I’d like to see before I die. It’s a scenario that I believe would increase, even further, the number of news sources we have.