alternative journalisms 11.23.2005, 2:26 PM
posted by ben vershbow
Craigslist founder Craig Newmark has announced he will launch a major citizen journalism site within the next three months. As quoted in The Guardian:
The American public has lost a lot of trust in conventional newspaper mechanisms. Mechanisms are now being developed online to correct that.
...It was King Henry II who said: 'Won't someone rid me of that turbulent priest?' We have seen a modern manifestation of that in the US with the instances of plausible deniability, the latest example of that has been the Valerie Plame case and that has caused damage.
Can a Craiglist approach work for Washington politics? It's hard to imagine a million worker ants distributed across the nation cracking Plamegate. You're more likely to get results from good old investigative reporting, but combined with a canny postmodern sense of spin (and we're not just talking about the Bush administration's spin, but Judith Miller's spin, The New York Times' spin) and the ability to make that part of the story. Combine the best of professional journalism with the best of the independent blogosphere. Can this be done?
Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo fame wants to bridge the gap with a new breed of "reporter-blogger," currently looking to fill two such positions -- paid positions -- for a new muckraking blog that will provide "wall-to-wall coverage of corruption, self-dealing, and betrayals of the public trust in today's Washington" (NY Sun has details). While other high-profile bloggers sign deals with big media, Marshall clings fast to his independence, but recognizes the limitations of not being on the ground, in the muck, as it were. He's banking that his new cyborgs might be able to shake up the stagnant Washington press corps from the inside, or at least offer readers a less compromised view (though perhaps down the road fledgeling media empires like Marshall's will become the new media establishment).
That's not to say that the Craigslist approach will not be interesting, and possibly important. It was dazzling to witness the grassroots information network that sprung up on the web during Hurricane Katrina, including on the Craigslist New Orleans site, which became a clearinghouse for news on missing persons and a housing directory for the displaced. For sprawling catastrophes like this it's impossible to have enough people on the ground. Unless the people on the ground start reporting themselves.
Citizen journalists also pick up on small stories that slip through the cracks. You could say the guy who taped the Rodney King beating was a "citizen journalist." You could say this video (taken surreptitiously on a cellphone) of a teacher in a New Jersey high school flipping out at a student for refusing to stand for the national anthem is "citizen journalism." Some clips speak for themselves, but more often you need context, you need to know how to frame it. The interesting thing is how grassroots journalism can work with a different model for contextualization. The New Jersey video made the rounds on the web and soon became a story in the press. One person slaps up some footage and everyone else comments, re-blogs and links out. The story is told collectively.
Posted by ben vershbow on November 23, 2005 2:26 PM
tags: CitJ, Publishing, Broadcast, and the Press, Social Software, citizen_journalism, craig_newmark, craigslist, grassroots, journalism, katrina, media, news, politics, press, talkingpointsmemo, washington
lisa lynch on November 23, 2005 2:54 PM:
wanted to bring up now public, since that's an existing model of what Craig's talking about. I find the interface so horrible that I have a hard time looking through the site: does anyone know anyone who reads it?
James Lynch III on November 23, 2005 3:49 PM:
yick! they (NowPublic) ripped off the tagging interface from Flickr (most-used tags GET BIG); perhaps they should look up "Human Computer Interface" or "Graphic Design" in the Wikipedia.
Don't lose sight of the fact that Craig Newmark is a great software developer. I'm certain (cause I'm going to track him down in Cole Valley) that his take on this space will be simple, extensible, and stable. I'm looking forward to it.
K.G. Schneider on November 23, 2005 4:51 PM:
Hey, speaking of interfaces, congratulations to all you if:bookies for purchasing a new keyboard with a functioning shift key! That "archie and mehitabel" downcased motif was a bit hard on the ol' trifocals. And THANK you for a great blog and all you do toward enriching discourse on the Web.
Lisa Lynch on November 23, 2005 7:01 PM:
Also wanted to mention Indymedia, which is a bit different than what Craig's proposing, but still a vibrant culture of participatory journalism. AND it's important to know that a big chunk of Indymedia was shut down temporarily by a US court order which essentially demanded that Rackspace, their British hosting company, hand over two of the Indymedia server. As the web journal Opendemocracy notes, it's an important cautionary tale for those who practice online journalism:
If Indymedia can be taken offline so easily, then what of our server, Plato, sitting at our internet service provider's (ISP) data centre? openDemocracy's ISP is a British-based firm, but a foreign government could easily ask the Home Office for a warrant under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (Ripa) and seize it. Ripa even comes with its own gagging clauses, so the hosting company would be unable to tell us why we'd suddenly gone offline, or who had taken our server away. The decision to target the hosting provider - a commercial company with no particular interest in what is being published by the sites it hosts - is a worrying precedent.