Daily Archives: July 20, 2009

Further notes on objectivity, transparency, and links

When I met David Weinberger in person last month at his Harvard talk with Doc Searls and Jonathan Zittrain about Cluetrain, I told him something along the lines of “I’ve been enjoying your blog for as long as I’ve been reading blogs.”  And that’s true. I’ve been reading Weinberger, and — probably more interesting to me — listening to any conference talks of his that I find in audio form when I can.  Weinberger is one of those first bloggers I started following when I got into all this just a few short years ago.

Anyway, the point is, I pay attention when he gets all philosophical.

So I grinned and raised my eyebrows during this year’s Personal Democracy Forum as I watched commentary and bits flow through my Twitter stream as Weinberger said “Transparency is the new objectivity.”

There’s a lot of Dan Gillmor in that, I thought, and I’d love to hear more about what he means.

Today I read Weinberger’s post that extends his “X is the new Y” cliché into something much more meaningful.

My favorite bit, after summarizing many of the assumptions about the power and purpose of objectivity:

“We thought that that was how knowledge works, but it turns out that it’s really just how paper works. Transparency prospers in a linked medium, for you can literally see the connections between the final draft’s claims and the ideas that informed it. Paper, on the other hand, sucks at links.”

In other words, Show Your Work.

If transparency is the new objectivity, it has to go deeper than disclosing conflicts of interest.  Transparency on the Web is all about disclosing how and where you found the information you’re passing on to the next person, or readers, or audience, or community.  It’s at the heart of the blogosphere’s “via” links.  It’s at the heart of sourcing the facts of your story.

Related: Matt Thompson steps over the corpse of objectivity and writes a eulogy for “the news voice” itself.

What was the news voice?

“As best as I can tell, institutional voice ascended in popularity with the same trajectory and for similar reasons as the concept of “the brand” did. During the advancement of the industrial age, local suppliers of goods lost significant ground to much larger regional and national suppliers. “Brand reputation” became a substitute for personal reputation. (”I love that cheese made by Farmer McGinty down the road!” became “I love Kraft cheese!”)”

In other words, newspapers lost a great deal of their humanity in favor of gaining institutional credibility.  Which they needed, if they were going to sell a bundle of paper with a name at the top of the front page for a set price every single day of the week, every single day of the year.  (Pretty impressive industrial trick when you think about it, eh?)

And finally: A link to more links. Kevin Sablan links to Weinberger’s piece on transparency/objectivity and adds a list of four more links to the canon.  Click, then click again.  Read them all.  Save them for yourself, share them with others, or follow the trail backward to see where the ideas got their start.