Is this the democratization of media or a Media Republic?

A massive new report from the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University takes on some of the most important questions about change in the world of journalism — and to be more precise, change in the world of information distribution, consumption, and participation.

I talked with project leader Persephone Miel during a Knight Foundation conference at MIT this summer.  She worked on this report for a year, thanks to a grant from the MacArthur Foundation.

What was most striking about her attitude then, and what stands out now in the chapters of this report, is a refreshing purity of cause.  This is not a report about what newspapers are doing wrong and how to fix it; this is a real live report on how well New Media appears to be informing the citizens of the world on themselves.

It’s not about whether or not new tools for communication are successfully replacing or supplanting the old ones, it’s about whether or not we’re getting the information we need to make educated decisions about our lives.

So, take a look at the menu of PDFs, and choose a few to crack open over the weekend.

I’m going to take a closer look at Ethan Zuckerman’s report on International News, having been blown away by the work of Global Voices since I started reading blogs four-plus years ago.  Why am I so interested in international news when I spend 40-96 hours a week working with small-town-America newspapers?

Well, the quality of international news coming out of wire services and national news organizations was one of the big reasons I decided to get into journalism in the first place.  As I’ve learned more about reporting and reporters, I think in most situations, it is extremely difficult for an objective outside observer to understand what’s really going on in a town, a neighborhood, a favela, a rancho, a barrio — there are barriers of language, class, nationality, culture, attitude, wealth — the same way we talk about newspapers being “on the Web” or “of the Web,” well, you can be “in the neighborhood” all you want, but if you’re not “of the neighborhood,” you’re not getting the whole story.

That’s what keeps me so interested in projects like Rising Voices and other small-town versions in the U.S. that aim to empower people “of the neighborhood” to do their own reporting.  That’s the difference, from my point of view, between a media republic, where we entrust a limited number of experts to provide us with information, and a true democratization of media, wherein we take up the cameras and notepads and laptops ourselves and tell the stories of our neighborhood.