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 February, 2005

Mapping the Participatory Journalistic Field

Posted by chanders on February 26, 2005

How can we begin to draw a "map" of the participatory journalistic field? Here are some initial metrics:

1. Degree of "participatory-ness": How much do real "citizen journalists" actually contribute to the p.j. organization? For example, perhaps a web site has paid editors and uses citizen journalists as merely stringers or in a supplementary sense. Or, on the other hand, perhaps citizen journalists provide all of the  content, including the featured content.

2. Degree of "journalistic-ness": To what degree do p.j. organizations practice "journalism" in the traditional sense; i.e., do their writers go out, interview, dig thorugh documents, give eyewiteness accounts? Or do they simply link to other news that has been reported my the media already and discuss it?

3. Ties to social movements: Do what degree is a p.j. outlet tied to a social movement, and to what degree does it purport to be an "objective" reporter of news?

4. Authority: Need to do more thinking on this one. But there’s been some interesting work done on blogging and authority (<a href=http://overstated.net/04/05/24-weblogs-and-authority>here</a> for example) and this would seem to be an important thing to figure out.

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Posted in Projects: Random Musings | Leave a Comment »

Thoughts on Gannon Gate, and the Changing Blogosphere

Posted by chanders on February 14, 2005

Starting to think hard about what I’m going to say at the 2005 Indyconference. Here’s a start: a feature I wrote for U.S. Indymedia on the aftermath of Gannongate:

Why shouldn’t James Guckert (aka ‘Jeff Gannon’) have been allowed in the White House briefing room?

Multiple questions surround the rapidly blossoming White House scandal: did Guckert blow the CIA cover of Valerie Plame? Or not? What’s Guckert’s connection to the raft of homosexually-themed military escort websites registered under his name? What is ‘Talon News’? How does the Guckert case relate to other recent Bush-admnistration propaganda scandals? What’s his connection to Karl Rove and the rightwing PR
machine
? The real question, though, is far harder to answer: what does it say about the state of American journalism when a fraudulent, partisan journalist is unmaked by insurgent, partisan bloggers?  On what grounds can those of us in the radical media criticize J.D. Guckert?

That sounds a little harsher than its meant to. After all, the bloggers at Daily Kos and Atrios, along with Media Matters who uncovered this farce really are heroes. And there are a few big differences between Guckert and the members of the left-wing blogosphere; for one thing, they don’t use fake names to get access to White House press conferences, and for another they haven’t been under invesitgation for their connection to the Plame affair.

But the issue goes deeper than this. After all, we in the alternative media have been gleefully tearing down the walls that separate journalists from ordinary people for years now. It seems the Bush administration is cynically taking our advice, and doesn’t seem to care who is a "journalist" these days as long as this or that person adhere’s to the Bush regime’s far-right agenda. As White House spokesman Scott McClellan said on Friday, "in this day and age, when you have a changing media, it’s not an easy issue to decide or try to pick and choose who is a journalist."  Of course, as long as they spin your lies and shill for your domestic programs its easy to look the other way.

I don’t have any answers to these questions, but I can point to a possible place to begin the discussion. In 1997, from the jungles of the Chiapas region of Mexico, Subcomandante Marcos observed: "the world of contemporary news is a world that exists for the VIPs — the very important people. Their everyday lives are what is important: if they get married, if they divorce, if they eat, what clothes they wear and what clothes they take off — these major movie stars and big politicians. But common people only appear for a moment — when they kill someone, or when they die."

James Guckert is a VIP; so is Armstrong Williams, Scott McClellan, and George W. Bush. Even David Brock is a VIP. Almost eight years after Marcos delivered his indictment of the global media system, how close have members of the new community of "participatory journalists" come to rectifying the imbalance he observed? While this discussion might seem a long way away from staged White House briefings and gay-themed web sites, having it seems to be more important than ever.

Posted in Non-Academic Essays | Leave a Comment »

Why Study Participatory Journalism

Posted by chanders on February 9, 2005

What’s the point in devoting six years of ones life to studying participatory journalism at the PhD level? After all, plenty of smart people write about it all the time who don’t have advanced degrees, and other smart people think that the whole thing doesn’t really matter anyway (witness the relative lack of academic writing on blogging as opposed to blog postings on blogging).  So here’s a list of common mistakes that some academics usually make when thinking about so-called "alternative media," along with some mistakes that I think some bloggers make too.

1. Alternative Media is just an extension of activism: This understanding sees the alternative media as little more than an old-time revolutionary press: passionate activists who crank out manifestos justifying their various ideological viewpoints, with any news they report inherently "slanted" in order to justify their revolutionary beliefs. There’s an element of truth to this, especially in a group like Indymedia. But even within Indymedia, things are more complicated than this– the news process is more than just the manufacture of propoganda. In other words, alternative media is journalism, too.

Of course, it doesn’t help matters that a lot of the academic writing on alternative media is really just a cover for actually writing about movements that one academic or another supports. For example: writing about the feminist press when one really wants to talk about the women’s movement, or the new wave of internet activism when one wants to talk about the anti-globalization movement. Alternative media deserves to be treated as media, not just activism by another name.

2. The ‘lonely pamphleteer’ theory: It seems like a lot of academics (and sociologists especially) don’t study alternative media because they think there’s nothing social to study. Again, there’s some truth here. Much of the blogging that goes on on the internet– like what I’m doing right now, for example– is just one man or woman sitting behind a computer screen typing whatever comes into their head.  Of course, some people argue that even that’s a "public sphere." But you don’t have to go that far. There are other organizations– Indymedia, ohmynews, Wiki News that really are both organizations and practice some form of "open source" journalism. And you can study them just like you would any other organization. Even types of alternative journalism we might think of as largely solitary, like blogging, are really intwined within much larger communities that have their own unique norms, understanding, and sanctions.

3. How do we get a handle on this? And what do we really have to say?: This is where it gets tricky, and intimidating. Go onto the web and google "blogging as journalism"– there’s probably never been a form of writing so openly self reflexive. There’s tons of people writing about all these interesting questions already online,  and some of them are fairly brilliant. So what can sociologists and cultural theorists really add to the conversation?

All I can say to answer that question, for now, is this: there’s a lot of hype, and a lot of criticism, but not a lot of systematic study. One of the things that social scientists are supposed to do is do more than just shoot off at the mouth– they have peer review, experimentation, and (*gasp*) a methodology. In some ways, the blogging about blogging cries out for a little systematization. It could use some of its wilder assumptions questioned. It could use a method, and it could certainly use some cross national study brought into the mix.

4. Journalism Gets Absorbed Into "The Media": A lot of the "hot" academic studies of "the media" usually talk about this media like it was all one sort of thing. Studying "journalism" has never been very sexy, mostly because a few snooty academics have seens journalists as ink stained wretches. But ignoring journalism in favor of the media would seem to be unable to explain a large portion of what it is we read and think about every day.

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Rosen: Blogging vs Journalism is ‘Over’

Posted by chanders on February 7, 2005

No better link than this one on the first day of this little blog. Jay Rosen of NYU writes: "Bloggers vs. journalists is over.  I don’t think anyone will mourn its passing.  There were plenty who hated the debate in the first place, and openly ridiculed its pretensions and terms.  But events are what did the thing in at the end.  In the final weeks of its run, we were getting bulletins from journalists like this one from John Schwartz of the New York Times, Dec. 28: "For vivid reporting from the enormous zone of tsunami disaster, it was hard to beat the blogs."

"The question now isn’t whether blogs can be journalism.  They can be, sometimes.  It isn’t whether bloggers "are" journalists.  They apparently are, sometimes.  We have to ask different questions now because events have moved the story forward.  By "events" I mean things on the surface we can see, like the tsunami story, and things underneath that we have yet to discern."

I mostly agree; anyway, at least I think that the whole "bloggers vs journalists" debate was pretty silly. What Rosen doesn’t talk about very much, though, is to what degree the mainstream media is still resisting this move. He also doesn’t get into how online journalism that carries a distinct ideological bent  outside the normal left-to-right spectrum usually gets the shaft. For instance, there wasn’t much about Indymedia  at the Harvard conference, even though it pretty much pioneered the concept of open publishing inside the U.S. But then again, isn’t it run by conspiracy theorists, anarchists, and anti-semites? That must be the reason.

Posted in Projects: Random Musings | 1 Comment »

A New Home

Posted by chanders on February 7, 2005

The academic half of my brain has started feeling more and more homeless recenetly. Its next door neighbor, the activist half, has plenty of places to go and have a great time: NYC Indymedia, The Indypendent Online, Indymedia US … But the part of me that’s a graduate student has noticed that more and more good ideas are starting to slip away into the between-books ether. I suppose thats why people used to keep journals.

Well, as seems appropriate for the brave new digitial era, I’ve started this little weblog so I can quickly post research ideas, thoughts on readings, personal anecdotes, etc. I dont think anyone will probably ever read it, but thats ok. For now, the only important reader is me.

Posted in Personal | 1 Comment »