Too Kos For Comfort?

by Paul Bass | August 7, 2007 4:22 PM |

Picture%20820.jpgAmid a “state of the revolution” new-media gathering, citizen journalist Faye M. Anderson (at right in photo) wondered: Have bloggers, like those consorting with Democratic presidential candidates last weekend, become too much like mainstream journalists?

And she has rethought a tenet of many of the new-fangled Internet news sites like this one: That citizens need to be part of the conversation by having the chance to post comments on stories.

Anderson made her remarks at the opening session of a “Journalism That Matters” conference at George Washington University in D.C. The conference brings together more than 100 bloggers, online reporters, activist web journalists, citizen journalists, and mainstream news veterans to assess the state of the current “media revolution” and figure out where to steer it next. (Click here and here to read accounts from last year’s gathering.)

Anderson publishes a politically oriented web site out of Brooklyn. She joined a panel Tuesday afternoon mostly filled with some of the big-picture theorists and analysts of the spread of hyperlocal news web sites (like the New Haven Independent), blogs, hybrid print-Internet experiments, and other interactive new forms of electronic journalism spreading across the country.

Near the beginning of the panel, Anderson asked “open-source journalism” Jay Rosen (to her left in the above photo; click here to read more about his work from a visit to New Haven earlier this year) about last week’s “Yearly Kos” convention in Chicago for political bloggers. Organized by a leading political website, the Daily Kos, the convention drew the major Democratic presidential candidates, reflecting the growing political clout bloggers are having in elections.

Are you worried, Anderson asked Rosen, that bloggers — who came to prominence challenging the way mainstream media (“MSM”) journalists do business — were becoming too close to the powerful people they write about?

No, replied Rosen, who attended the conference. Rather, he saw a sea of new voice and new kinds of reporting going on, different from the old-fashioned homogeneous pool of MSM political correspondents.

“There was no religion there,” Rosen said. “There was no common view among the [bloggers]. Readers are now writers. Citizens are political actors.” He saw the power that was once limited to MSM journalists spread across a wider group of citizens who now feel they can participate in the process.

From her question, Anderson clearly felt differently. Click on the play arrow to watch her describe her concerns, once the panel ended.

Can Everyone Participate?

Anderson made another remark that suggested a deeper concern. She answered a question from the audience about how operators of web sites should decide which readers’ comments to post or not post — where to draw the lines based on taste or libel or personal attacks.

On the panel, Anderson struck out at the idea of “codes of conduct” similar to one being promoted by the founder of Wikipedia.

“I thought that was one of the worst ideas. One of the beauties of citizen journalism is [that] there are no barriers to entry,” Anderson said.

After the panel, I told Anderson about a recent incident involving an Independent reader who was upset when we refused to post a comment of his which we considered racist. I asked her if she would have run the comment on her site. (The Independent encourages all viewpoints from citizens posting comments but won’t print profane, libelous, or vicious or hateful attacks.)

It turns out that Anderson, too, was troubled by some of the comments being posted on her website. So instead of drawing up a code of conduct, she simply stopped allowing readers to comment.

She said she’d prefer that readers not dwell too long on her site, anyway. She’d rather they take the information she posts and use it to become politically active, offline. Click on the play arrow to watch her explanation.

A New Attitude

Another provocative question came from panelist Jay Rosen. He asked another panelist, Jan Schaffer, about the transition she made from the MSM to the online citizen journalism world.

Schaffer used to be a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Now she runs J-Lab, one of the leading think tanks and funders of alternative citizen-media projects that challenge the way the MSM does business. (Click here to read a Ford Foundation-funded study she did of citizen media and hyperlocal news experiments across the country.)

How did that career shift change your thinking about news reporting? Rosen asked Schaffer.

Schaffer spoke of moving away from the “conflict” and “scorecard” approach of news reporting; from conventional notions of objective reporting; and from a reluctance to involve non-professional citizens in the process. Click on the play arrow to watch her response.

Picture%20819.jpgThree miles away from the conference in D.C.’s Foggy Bottom neighborhood could be found another genre-bending institution. This one had great taste, or at least had it for sale: a vegan soul food restaurant run by Black Hebrews (similar to one run by the same group in Chicago), on Georgia Avenue NW across the street from Howard University.

Picture%20818.jpgVegan macaroni and cheese, collard greens, and broccoli were on the menu. That was a story worth chasing down, with ginger-pineapple juice.

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