J-School: Educating Independent Journalists

“If tools could make anyone who picked them up an expert, they’d be valuable indeed.” Plato, The Republic

Archive for the ‘Projects: Random Musings’ Category

Google, and the Problem of “Two Democracies”

Posted by chanders on June 26, 2009

I’ve been thinking a lot about Google over the past few weeks, partly because I’m working on a project this summer on the future of news reporting, and partly just because there has been a lot of stupid crap said and written recently about the role of Google and the “link economy” in the production and dissemination of news. And a lot of this, in turn, ties into issues of public policy– specifically, the changes in laws and regulations that might reach down into the very guts of the web. In the next few paragraphs, I want to  examine the relationship between Google, linking, democracy, and gathering news by positing two principles, a proposition, a caveat, two (big) conundrums, and conclude by pointing the way to some of the best forward thinking on this topic.

Here we go:

Principle One: Google is not “the web” — but its complicated. Back in the days of the Ma Bell monopoly, was At&T the equivalent of the U.S. telephone system? Obviously not. The “system” was really a series of interconnected cables, phone lines, local utility offices, operator switches, headsets, and human beings (like operators and telephone repairmen) in which AT&T was a dominant player. That dominance, however, made things complicated; many of the rules, technologies, systems, and even the methods by which telephones were used stemmed, in large part, from the way that AT&T, over its history, interpreted the telephone system and what it was for. Obviously, there were limit cases — AT&T could not have unilaterally decided that telephones were really best used for hitting robbers over the head, and marketed themselves as a home protection service. But given those limit cases (what scholars of science and technology call “affordances“),  individuals, companies, scientists, and the government had a fair degree of room to shape the system they were operating on top of. At least for a while.

This isn’t a case, however, of “powerful companies determine how technologies get used, and it’s all a conspiracy.” Rather, there is a second principle at work here– what the same science and technology scholars call “black boxing.” The term actually comes out of computer science, and basically means that, at some point, a cluster of complex infrastructures become “black boxed.” They become seen as unproblematic and unified in a way in which they might not have been originally. Problematizing these unitary systems is called “opening the black box.” The example that has always made the most sense to me here is the idea of a car– for most of us, our car is a “black box”; it’s a unitary device that we ride to work and don’t think about much. Except, of course, when it breaks down; then we start to think very hard about the different objects that make up the black box, mostly so we can figure out how to fix them.

If we put these two concepts together– affordances and black boxing– and apply them to Google and them to the internet, here’s what we get. By deeply understanding and leveraging certain affordances of the internet, Google became the dominant company of the early 21st century digital economy. Along the way, partly because of its’ market and cultural dominance, and partly because it understood the world wide web so well, out notions of “the internet” and “Google” got packaged together in one black box. These days, its hard to disentangle the two; its hard to open that black box.

Newspaper executives are trying, though, and that’s what we’ve been watching over the past year or so. And that’s why it seems to frustrating, futile, and odd to so many people.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Gorilla Suits and the Anti-War Movement (Updated Below)

Posted by chanders on January 29, 2007


  The Former Fringe
  Originally uploaded by Chanders.

Criticizing mainstream media coverage of political protests is like shooting fish in a barrel. People have been doing it at least since Todd Gitlin wrote The Whole World is Watching [PDF], and it’s become common enough to spawn dozens of blogs and at least one media watchdog organization. Every once and in while, though, someone writes something that’s so terribly bad, so truly awful, that one can’t help but gripe about it. Alex Koppelman with Salon is the lucky man this week. In fact, his article about the January 27 UFPJ anti-war protest, "Protesting the war — not just for giant puppets anymore!" was so bad, it made the friend who emailed it to me start ranting at her boyfriend in disgust. So congratulations, Alex– you’ve even touched even the hard-bitten and cynical.

Lets get a few things straight right off the bat. I’ll grant Salon that covering political protests isn’t the easiest journalistic job in the world. Journalists thrive on a few types of stories– stories that are spontaneous and unscripted, stories that are new, stories that involve elites, and stories that  bring to light the passionate nature of the human condition. Political protests combine the worst of all worlds in a way that drives journalists crazy. Obviously, something is going on that’s serious enough to impel hundreds of thousands of people to get on buses and stand around in the cold for a few hours. But, all those people make covering the story so hard! And what’s more, far from being orgies of spontaneity, most protests are incredibly scripted affairs. So here you are, Alex Koppelman, at the protest surrounded by all these hopeful people (which also pisses you off, because you’re a journalist, which means you’re also incredibly cynical) at an event your editor tells you is really important but which is just so damn boring.

And when journalists get bored, they get lazy. Which means they pull out the cliches, and dust off the old script they’ve written a thousand times before.

Here’s Koppelman’s money paragraph:

"Regardless of size, the protest felt different. The demographics of the crowd had changed. As opposition to the war in Iraq mounts, sparked by the president’s decision to send 21,500 more troops, protesting against it has become mainstream. There were plenty of professional protesters in evidence Saturday, the kind for whom protests are a lifestyle choice, but there were also more yuppies, more families with small children, more older people and even a fair number of stylishly dressed young girls in North Face jackets and Ralph Lauren sunglasses. Just as important, the confused, off-topic rhetoric of so many past protests was noticeably muted."

There are two things going on here. For starters, this piece is incredibly poorly written. Koppelman dips into his reporters bag and pulls out every cliche in the book: the commies, the crazy dykes from Sarah Lawrence with the dirty signs, the man in the gorilla suit, the charging anarchists, the reefer (oh god, not the reefer!), and the Fletchers, from Harrisonburg, Va, presumably representative of the 99,500 or so people at the protest who weren’t crazy druggies or from weird political sects.

Even worse than the poor quality of the article, however, is the way it reinforces the emerging media narrative about popular opposition to the current fiasco in the Middle East. Salon isn’t alone in this regard; indeed, it’s likely that Koppelman has read enough other press to pick up on the storyline without even knowing it. Here’s a summary of story as it’s being framed in the national consciousness:

"Once upon a time, a group of dirty Arabs flew some planes into some big buildings in New York. The American president rallied the American people to the defense of liberty and the homeland like the hero-cowboy he was, and everyone was united and happy, maybe for the first time in their lives. But then the president got carried away, and because Saddam wanted to kill his daddy, he decided he needed to kill Saddam first. And the American people, because they were: a) scared of the dirty Arabs; or b) tricked by the tricky President and his tricky advisors; or c) good hearted liberals who wanted to bring democracy and freedom to the dirty Arabs, all decided that invading Iraq was a great idea. (Of course, there were a few people who thought invading Iraq was a bad idea, but they were all dykes from Sarah Lawrence college wearing gorilla suits). But because the president wasn’t very smart, and because we "won the war but lost the peace"; and because the Arabs were not only dirty but were ungrateful bloodthirsty barbarians who didn’t appreciate our gift freedom, the war didn’t go like people thought it would. Then, all the people who thought the war was a good idea realized in November 2006 that it was a bad idea, and opposition to the war became … <drumroll please> … mainstream."

OK, fine. Maybe this storyline, the "mainstreamization" of the anti-war movement will help the Democrats get a spine and end the war. But, it’s just not true. In the months leading up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, in the face of a seven month p.r. campaign of post-9/11 fear probably unprecedented in modern American history:

"59 percent of Americans said they believed the president should give the United Nations more time. Sixty-three percent said Washington should not act without the support of its allies, and 56 percent said Mr. Bush should wait for United Nations approval … Three-quarters of Americans see war as inevitable, and two-thirds approve of war as an option. But many people continue to be deeply ambivalent about war if faced with the prospect of high casualties or a lengthy occupation of Iraq that further damages the American economy. Twenty-nine percent of respondents in the poll, which was conducted Monday through Wednesday, disapprove of taking military action against Iraq … These worries may be taking a toll on Mr. Bush’s support. His overall job approval rating is down to 54 percent from 64 percent just a month ago, the lowest level since the summer before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks … More than anything, Americans remained concerned about the threat of Qaeda terrorism far more than any threat from Iraq … In January, 59 percent of the public saw Al Qaeda as a greater threat to peace and stability than Iraq. Fifteen percent saw Iraq as the greater threat. In this week’s survey, 28 percent saw Iraq as the greater threat, but 51 percent still perceived the Qaeda threat as more serious … more information has not translated into greater support for war, which remains at 66 percent. A year ago, a CBS News poll recorded 74 percent in favor of military action against Iraq. The support level for war has held firm at two-thirds of Americans, but this majority breaks down on questions of timing and diplomacy."

Or so wrote the New York Times on February 14, 2003.

A month later, the war had started, and the rallying around the flag had begun. But the doubts were always there, and we need to remember: a third of the country has always opposed war in Iraq, not to mention the two-thirds who thought the way we were going about it was a bad idea.

And then, there was what happened the day after the Times took its poll. 500,000 people in NYC rallying against the war, on the coldest day of the year with no permit, throwing themselves against police barricades on 2nd and 3rd Avenue. 1.5 million in London. 2.5 million in Rome, and millions more in the rest of Europe and around the world.

But hey, maybe they were all wearing gorilla suits.

There’s more here than "I told you so." The point of this little history lesson is just this– sometimes, people are smart. Sometimes they know that their leaders are full of shit, and that they’re being lied to. Sometimes, Alex Koppelman, they agree more with the communists and anarchists and wild-eyed radicals than they do with their own elected "leaders," even if this doesn’t fit your lazy journalists script.

They knew it then. And they know it now.

UPDATE: Wow, I thought I sounded pissed off, but I’ve got nothing on this guy, who also wrote about the Koppelman article:

"Also, fuck Salon
both for its choice of headlines when normal, mainstream, job-holding,
non-puppet-waving middle class people like me and my wife were out
marching three goddamn years ago and for quoting Wonkette as some sort of barometer on what’s worth complaining about … Some days, despite my putative presence in its ranks, I wish the middle
class would just get on with stuffing itself up its own corpulent ass
and suffocating as it tries to choke out just one more foppish attempt
at ‘wry observation.’"

Posted in Projects: Random Musings | 3 Comments »

As NewAssignment.net Rides High, Questions About Localism

Posted by chanders on September 23, 2006

First, the good news: some big-time money is flowing into NewAssignment.net. Of course, "big-time money" is a relative term; compared to the budgets of most media organizations,
$10,000 from the Sunlight Foundation and even $100,000 from Reuters is mere chump change. But as far as experimental online journalism projects go, its pretty good. As always, Jay has the complete round-up at his blog. It’s also worth reading the announcement straight from the mouths of Reuters themselves, over at Huffington Post (his opening line seems a little late: "Without corrective action, we are in danger of the public losing faith in the fourth estate." Umm … hello??? "in danger of losing??" Methinks the horse has flown the coop on this one.)

So regardless of the eventual success or failure of NewAssignment, it seems that the initial idea has gotten a lot of people in the industry excited. Of course, Rosen would be the first to note that NewAssignment is a niche website, at least for now. It can’t– and won’t– do everything.

One of the things I wonder if it will do, and I think it will not do, is cover what used to be called "local news." Most of the ideas about initial NA.net projects are national in scope– "how family-friendly are America’s companies, really?" is one of story ideas, for example. National stories, of course, are a perfect way to make use of "network effects," i.e., the relatively easy ability of dispersed groups of people to get a handle on large-scale social phenomena by pooling their resources. But although I’m reassured by the fact that I know that NewAssignment.net isn’t trying to do everything, I’m a little worried that the movement of the excitement and the money in such a national direction. After all, while journalism generally sucks everywhere, it sucks less on a national level than it does locally, if one can make such a blanket statement. I’d hate to see the energy of the online journalism world go only towards creating NewAssignment.net as the New York Times of the networked journalism world (though it would be great if NA became the New York Times of the networked journalism world, just as long as other things got a chance to grow as well.)

This is partly why I’m happy to see signs of stirring over on the Philly-NORG scene. A couple good emails have passed back and forth over on the (now public) Yahoo Group, and there are the early stages of both a wiki and a website, too.

I want to be clear, for what it’s worth– this post isn’t an attempt to create some "us versus them" type scenario … either we go local or we go national, we go NORG or we go N.A. Thats just dumb, especially considering that neither group is really trying to replicate the other (and of course that there are overlapping participants working within each group). I am trying to push the question of what models– financial, journalistic, philosophical– might work locally. What can NORGS, and other local journalistic projects, take from the NewAssignment experiment? And what will they have to leave behind? I think these are interesting questions, and tossing some ideas up against the rubber that is the quickly congealing NewAssignent model might be one way to ponder them.

OK, so a little more on localism while I’m on the subject. Check out the really informative conversation going on about hyperlocal media in the comments section of my posts on Typologies of Online Journalism. Kpaul from Indiana makes a point that I think relates to my previous bit, above: "don’t count out the regional independents yet, though. A lot of us realize the need to do more serious journalism. We know that takes money, though. The trick is going to be in raising money through the existing sites (with our bake sale stories) while building a bond with the community. At some point (at least in my plan) there will be paid reporters, stringers, photogs, etc."

How to raise the money?  … Another way in which comparison with NewAssignment (what from their model applies? What doesn’t) might be useful.

Posted in Projects: Random Musings | 4 Comments »

Josh Wolf Case Adds New Twist to “Blogger as Journalist” Debate

Posted by chanders on August 21, 2006

I’d been passively following the Josh Wolf case over in San Francisco, largely through the excellent coverage provided by Indybay (did you know, as an aside, that Indybay was ranked #328 on technorati?? Thats pretty amazing for an IMC site. Indymedia.org is only ranked #750, and NYC IMC, the site I spend most of my time on, is ranked #8016). Wolf, for those who don’t know, is an independent videographer who shot some pretty gripping footage of an anti-G8 protest in San Francisco in 2005. The Federal Government, a la Judith Miller, a la, Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada, is trying, through the grand jury process, to get Wolf to turn over unedited footage of alleged crimes that were committed during the protest.

I didn’t realize, though, until Dan Gilmor pointed it out, that there’s a potentially new twist to the Wolf case: that the Feds are basically trying to do an  end-run around the California shield law, under which Wolf would be protected as a journalist, by claiming that the case is a federal one because federal funding was used to pay for the police car damaged in the protest. As Gilmor notes, this would create a huge hole in most state shield laws. California has one of the better state shield laws in the country, and is something of a model for citizen journalists looking for legal protection.

This isn’t the only interesting legal development in blog-land that Gilmor has noted recently. The Berkman Center and the Center for Citizen Media are funding a new initiative to "provide information, education, resources and tools to help address the challenges faced by citizen journalists."

And in another interesting  legal development for indy-media types, American Apparel has just sent a really nasty letter to Clamor Magazine, accusing them of "inaccuracies and accusing Clamor of shoddy and amateur journalism." An AA spokeswoman demanded, “if the article is not immediately removed online, along with a retraction and an [sic] public apology posted online and published appropriately, we will be forced to seek legal action in light of such gross, blatant, negligent and irresponsible journalism.” While the Clamor Magazine situation is somewhat different than these other cases, it does illustrate the hyper-litigious atmosphere currently dominating the journalism world. 

How these legal issues work themselves out is the other side to the knowledge and expertise issues I’ve been harping on recently. Professional power primarily stems  from two sources: the claim of jurisdiction over abstract knowledge and the autonomy to realize that knowledge in work. While expertise is developed via grad schools and networks, autonomy is hashed out in the political and legal arena. Once again we see an example of the fact that, while bloggers versus journalists may be over, there are powerful institutions that haven’t gotten the memo.

Here’s some interesting background information on an earlier legal case I was involved with in NYC in 2004 and 2005.

Now playing: "Party Hard," by Pulp.

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“Actually Existing” Citizen Journalism Projects and Typologies: Part I

Posted by chanders on July 31, 2006

[This is a draft of something bigger, so reader feedback is highly appreciated.]

With all the buzz abut Jay Rosen’s latest brainstorm, New Assignment.net, I thought it might be useful to take a step back and typologize some of the citizen’s journalism projects that have either existed in the past and continue to exist today. There have already been some overviews of the types of CJ projects that could exist, along with some examples that flesh out the speculations, but it still might be interesting to look at what has existed, starting from the "beginning," more or less. Here goes:

I. The "personal" homepage.

The very first example of anything remotely approaching "citizen’s journalism" that I can remember. Having started college in the mid-1990’s, the technologically advanced amongst us soon had our own "homepages," provided to us on our school server space, which served as bulletin boards, rant space, and occasionally helped launch interesting personal and group projects. Some of the personal homepages linked to other web pages but there was very little political commentary on the early sites I remember: they were, indeed, personal web pages.

That’s why I’d argue that the real forerunner of the homepage (and the great grand-daddy of the blog, since I also argue that the blog is descended from the homepage, below) is the ‘zine. Many of the people who started homepages originally got their start in the DIY media world with ‘zines: small-circulation, often intensely personal, usually photocopied publications that exploded onto the high-school and college scene with the advent of cheap laser printing and photocopy services in the late 1970’s. Even with the explosion in blogging and other online media forms, zines are still around.

Drawbacks: Updating these sites was time consuming and took a bit of technological skill: you had to know html, for starters. Consequently, updates were (relatively) rare. I don’t recall there been very much two-way communication besides email; basically, the equivalent of a digital "letter to the editor."

At the same time, however, these sites were some of the first digital forms that got people used to the entire notion of "putting themselves online." And because they were harder to update, they were actually a lot more graphically interesting than a many of weblogs we see today. They more resembled traditional print magazines in that sense as well.

II. Indymedia

People often forget that Indymedia emerged in 1999– which, while only 7 years ago, is a generation when it comes to digital media forms (blogs, for instance, can be said to be about 3 or 4 years old, at least in their current form). The very first IMC was created in Seattle in November 1999, and broadcast photos, text, and video from the the WTO protests to the entire world. Soon, Indymedia sites began popping up in cities ahead of the large anti-globalization protests that were then sweeping the globe, and eventually, some cities decided that they wanted "permanent" IMC’s.

The fact that Indymedia was dedicated to providing "real-time" information to readers as part of a larger anti-capitalist movement had several major consequences regarding its relationship to traditional journalism. First, the relaying of specific information from "newsworthy" events immedately brought Indymedia into a closer relationship with journalistic activity (the fact that IMC’s were often, in their early days, doing a much better job of covering these protests than the mainstream media only added to the challenge. Second, Indymedia was grounded in a larger, much more radical critique of the corporate (and, I argue, the professional) press than many of the "citizen journalism" projects that came before it, or after it. While today we hear that most "bloggers don’t want to replace" the mainstream media, I thin its arguable that many IMC’s did want to do just that. Third, while we can trace personal homepages back to ‘zine form, IMC journalism is more directly linkable to the tradition of "alternative media" and "alt. journalism" that has existed for hundreds of years, ever since the start of journalism itself. This puts it far outside the mainstream, even in the American blogging world in the U.S., blogging’s political contours fall roughly within the spectrum of allowable political opinion as set by the domestic party apparatus, though concentrated at the fringes of this apparatus.There aren’t many openly anti-capitalist bloggers in the U.S., for instance, which may party explain why Indymedia is linked to much more frequently from blogs in other parts of the world than by bloggers in the states.)

Fourth, there were several technical developments that allowed Indymedia to thrive. The most important was the creation of "active", the codebase that allowed anyone who wanted to to upload media to an IMC website. This obviously marked a dramatic improvement over the old "homepage" method of uploading content. There were also technological advances in digital journalism equipment, like cheap digital photography, for example. Finally, though, I’d argue that the existence of a powerful global protest movement did more to spur Indymedia on than any developments in technology.

III. Blogs

This is where many histories of citizen journalism start, with the emergence of the "blogging" movement, whose biggest growth occurred roughly between the attack on the World Trade Center and the 2004 U.S. Presidential election. Once again, we see the combination of a new technology– widely available, commercially produced blogging software– and a political moment– post 9/11 turmoil creating a new media form.

Blogging would become a shorthand term for much of the grassroots media and journalism work that has occurred since 2002, and as such, the term has become confused almost to the point of uselessness. At the same time, however, we must acknowledge that the notion of blogging "as journalism" has gained a cultural acceptance that has so far eluded previous digital media forms, like Indymedia, or successive media forms, like hyperlocal citizens media. Why might this be? Several explanations spring to mind: first, as already noted, blogs posed much less of an existential threat to traditional journalism than either Indymedia or hyper-local journalism; second, popular blogs  fell within the range of normal American political discourse, and, relatedly, bloggers were often seen as a rational and semi-respectable breed (and included some notable current and former journalists in their ranks); and, finally, there was a surge in the sheer number of blogs out there, a surge that was difficult to ignore.

In general, we can note three previous media forms that would intersect with and help create the blogging movement: the  ‘zine subculture; a largely de-radicalized variation of  Indymedia "citizens reporting" practices; and a form of punditry / commentary. The majority of blogs, as the much-discussed recent Pew Survey notes, resemble zines in their personal focus and small readership. At the same time, many of the most popular and referenced blogs practice punditry or political organizing. The second stream, so-called "citizens reporting" seems to have taken a winding journey from the world of small-scale, hyper-local journalism to the world of networked journalism.

We’ll continue this journey in the second part of this analysis, looking at hyperlocal citizens journalism, "big-media" citizens journalism, and networked journalism.

Continue with Part II

I’ve decided to add a little more of a personal touch to this blog: at the end of my posts, I’ll tell folks what song(s) were playing on my iTunes while I wrote it.

Currently playing: (appropriately enough) "DIY" (Peter Gabriel) from Peter Gabriel 2 (Scratch)

When things get so big, I don’t trust them at all,
You want some control, you’ve got to keep it small.

Posted in Projects: Random Musings | 7 Comments »

More on “What Democracy Looks Like” from the AMC

Posted by chanders on June 26, 2006

As opposed to my somewhat incoherent note taking, Paul from Mediageek has posted a good summary and analysis of the media democracy panel.

From the post:

"All of the panelists directly addressed the challenges of making media that is responsive and accountable to communities, activists and organizers. There was critical discussion about the relationship of more radically grassroots projects to Indymedia as well as the liberal/progressive mainstream media that is primarily published by and for white middle-class progressives."

And Brownfemipower has a series of good observations of the AMC on her Woman of Color blog.

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‘Outsiders In': Yearly Kos, Boundary Lines, and Border Zones

Posted by chanders on June 12, 2006

Well, the YearlyKos convention in Las Vegas got press attention that probably exceeded everyone involved’s wildest dreams. Beltway Blogroll has the best press roundup that I’ve seen (Part One here, Part Two here.) It’s a perfect political story, and a few possible journalistic frames include: nerdy bloggers leave the computer behind and venture into the real world, blinking in the glare of slot machines and dancing girls with conical metal brassieres; friendly faces are put to hitherto cryptic screen names; or, finally, formerly rambunctious and  angry outsiders are slowly absorbed into the Democratic Party establishment, leaving their radical views and integrity behind, but sacrificing the passion of youth for the power and cynical wisdom of middle age.

It’s this last frame which has dominated coverage … not surprisingly, of course, as its an old, old story (going back at least to the overthrow of the thuggish Titans by the Athenian gods, who then went on to become crackpot dictators in their own right). The "outsiders become insiders" frame actually was launched a few weeks ago with Matt Bai’s article in the New York Times Magazine, but reached critical mass with Maureen Dowd’s column and Adam Nagourney’s write up.

Dowd: "As I wandered around workshops, I began to wonder if the outsiders just wanted to get in. One was devoted to training bloggers, who had heretofore not given much thought to grooming and glossy presentation, on how to be TV pundits and avoid the stereotype of nutty radical kids."

Nagourney: "They may think of themselves as rebels, separate from mainstream politics and media. But by the end of a day on which the convention halls were shoulder to shoulder with bloggers, Democratic operatives, candidates and Washington reporters, it seemed that bloggers were well on the way to becoming — dare we say it? — part of the American political establishment.

Mark Warner’s$50,000 party was the icing on the cake for a lot of the mainstream press, and even my parents’ local paper, the Philadelphia Inquirer, got in on the act. Wrote Dick Polman: "Moulitsas wrote recently that the party insiders can either work with
the bloggers, "or get out of the way." Yet there’s always the danger
that the outsiders might wind up seduced and co-opted."

Even the normally indefatigable Jeff Jarvis seemed momentarily stumped by the whole affair (unless, of course, he was just rhetorically playing dumb). Notes Jeff:

"What is the line between insider and outsider? In one breath, you hear the attendees talking about taking over the party. In the next gasp, you hear them talk about supplanting both parties [...] So is this a party? A caucus of the party? A splinter from the party? A new party? A gathering of bloggers or media? A gathering of media or activists? A candy mint or a breath mint? Life is so confusing now."

The question of insiders versus outsiders isn’t a new one for social scientists; indeed, it comes into play every time you have to define a population to study and then extrapolate that population from the "real world":  who, in other words, is in the group that we think is important enough to spend a few years studying, and what characteristics do they possess that differentiates them from everybody else?  One of the major sociological moves in recent years has been to deny that the boundary between inside and outside is self-evident, or, in fact, that it even exists at all.  Bruno Latour probably puts the point most provocatively, writing in his chapter "Outsiders In" from Science in Action that we must "leave the boundaries [between inside and outside] open and close them only when the people we follow close them.” Or, as Collins and Evans note in "The Third Wave of Science Studies," "one could say that the tendency to dissolve the boundary between those inside and those outside the community reaches its apogee in ‘Actor Network Theory’ [ANT], as first adumbrated by Bruno Latour and Michel Callon. Here even the boundary between human experts and non-human contributors to the resolution of conflict is taken away."

While there has been some retreat from ANT within sociologies of science in recent years, its notions about insiders versus outsiders are still enormously productive, in my opinion, especially when it comes to analyzing occupational, social, and political categories upended by the internet. The most provocative application of ANT to online journalism, for instance, comes from Turner, who argues that "the boundaries of journalistic practice have long been more porous than professional norms might suggest … [we need a theoretical model] in which the sociological concepts emerging in and around the study of science and technology can be usefully applied to other professions. These concepts make it possible to identify new sorts of journalists."

So, getting back to the Yearly Kos, its possible to argue that the boundary lines between "insider and outsider," "activist and operative," "rebel and party hack" aren’t nearly as clear as Dowd, Nagourney, and, indeed, the Kossacks themselves, would like to believe. Instead of a sharply defined boundary line we might better imagine a thick, poorly defined "border zone" made up of proliferating hybrids, shifting social and occupational roles, and networks of expertise. To at least some degree, there is no important empirical difference between the outsider Kossacks and  the insider party establishment; or, at least, such a difference cannot be productively imagined by drawing sharply defined borders between the two.  (This, of course, begs the question as to whether there is some sort of "core" beyond either side of the border zone.)

We can’t stop here, though– because as we’ve seen, while the empirical and sociological utility of sharp lines might be questionable, there’s still a rhetorical value to fixing your own borders, on the part of the social actors themselves. In other words: the Kossacks, the Democratic Party, the mainstream media– all these groups find it useful to define themselves and others as insider or outsider, as part of "our" group or part of "the other guy’s" group." This is where the  Bourdieuean notion of the field, distinction, and the "real as relational" can still be valuable, perhaps not as a description of actually existing social reality, but at least as the description of a rhetorical and "professional" strategy by which insiders are distinguished from outsiders.  And yet, the very fact that such categorical definitions find such little purchase in "actually existing" social life renders them supremely flexible and, indeed, potentially incoherent. This, I think, is what Jarvis is getting at when he writes of the Yearly Kos attendees that:

"they are the outsiders who want to be in and who decide who’s in and who’s out. When asked about whether Hillary Clinton would be welcome at his event, Kos said, “Oh, my God, no way!” Nagourney said she declined an invitation. The outsiders declare she’s in the wrong crowd so she’s out with them.

In other words, the insider / outsider rhetoric changes all the time, depending on who is talking, when, about whom. But the deployment of this rhetoric is both strategic and essential to the identity of the various social actors involved.

And of course, all this can apply equally to mainstream, professional, and online journalism, as I tried to get at in my discussion of the NORG movement in Philadelphia.

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Embedded Knowledge in the Blogosphere

Posted by chanders on May 19, 2006

Interesting comment from Matthew Yglesias regarding the nature of knowledge in the blogosphere; in brief, blogging knowedge may not be journalistic knowledge, but it’s often knowledge of another kind.  He makes the point with reference to ex-Clinton hack Mike McCurry’s failure to "spin the blogosphere around" to his own paid views on the net neutrality issue. But sadly for him:

The blogosphere is full of people who know a lot about the internet and could handle a grown-up argument.

Bloggers may be experts, but not the kind of experts journalists are (if we can ever figure out what kind of experts they are):

One of the most neglected aspects of the blogosphere, in my opinion, is that precisely because it’s (mostly) composed of people who aren’t professional journalists, it’s composed of people who are professional doers of something else and know a great deal about what it is they "really" do. Consequently, the overall network of blogs contains a great deal of embedded knowledge.

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Journalism and the ‘Impact’ of Technology

Posted by chanders on April 20, 2006

Quick but important thought: journalism is not changing because new online technologies are impacting it; rather journalism is changing because it is under pressure from other occupational and social groups who are using new technology in certain ways to advance their interests.

Your tiny bit of insight for the day. We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.

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Lexis Nexis to Add Blogs

Posted by chanders on April 9, 2006

From CyberJournalist.net:

"LexisNexis is starting to integrate blog content into its databases.
Blogs will be selected for inclusion based on editorial quality, the
company says."

Fascinating. Implications include:

a) Content analysis of blogs just got a whole lot easier
b) there will be a whole new process of "structuring" and "ranking" of "important" blogs based on whether or not they make the list. New "boundary work" will be done … will academic analysis of blogs start missing a whole lot of the blogosophere?? Wither technorati and truth laid bare? etc etc.

Update: Looks like cj.net got its story from the Lexis-Nexis website. Wish they’d linked to it. But that aside, there’s some additional information there. Apparently, the service is in partnership with something called newstex:

"Unlike existing Web-based blog aggregation services, Newstex actually licenses influential blog content directly from independent bloggers and then takes in each carefully selected blog feed in text format and uses its proprietary NewsRouter technology to scan it in real-time."

Also, it seems that at least a few blogs are showing up as having been contacted by newstex, and that the aggregation includes "possible monetary pay out." Looks like they also were working with Pajamas Media back when it was called  Finally, John Quiggin raises a question as to what this means in terms of "creative commons licensing."

What technorati is saying.

Read it all: the plot thickens.

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