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.

BlogHer and the media, meaning me in this case

The odd thing about being both a blogger and a journalist — on this particular day — is reading a story in the newspaper that I wrote about BlogHer, in which I try to play reality against what the big bad mainstream media (which is now apparently me) would have us believe is the stereotypical blogger.

Did that all make sense?

Over at The Internship That Shall Not Be Named, I wrote a story about BlogHer. At one point in the process, I had written the lead that ended up in another paper’s article about the Pew study. I decided to bury the stereotype a little deeper, and tag it as such, instead of just throwing at the reader first thing. Maybe we should do that more often, eh?

And now I’ve gotten myself in trouble with a(nother) possible future employer. Cross that one off the list. Great.

Thanks to all the BlogHers who let me prod them with questions, including the ones who didn’t make it into the story due to space constraints. Yes, I am aware that there are no limits on screen space online, but editing a version of the story for each medium isn’t exactly in play where I’m at.

Notes on the perils of constructed objectivity

I mentioned objectivity a few posts ago, with the promise that I’d get around to putting up something I wrote on the topic for a class. I’m not going into the details of “What’s a literature review?” and I’m certainly ignoring the question “What’s a mini-lit-review?”

a slide from my presentation on objectivity

For your enjoyment, here’s my short literature review on The Nature of News.

An excerpt for the click-shy:

Lippmann saw the news media as a searchlight scanning the landscape, its beam too narrow to put what it shines on into context. The interpreters of events, the span of their searchlight limited by time, space, and convention, use stereotypes to fill in the gaps. Like mythic archetypes woven into the structure of storytelling, these stereotypes are intended to be broadly comprehended. These should be the lowest common denominators that hold a society together. Unfortunately, these shortcuts tend to reinforce the status quo. By performing this function, the news media is unintentionally proving Klapper’s 1960 limited effects hypothesis.

A quick riff on objectivity

I’m not going to go at length about the End of Objectivity, or even the perils of objectivity, although I should get around to posting a little literature review and presentation I wrote on the topic awhile back.

But here’s a good concrete example of how awkward it can be sometimes to include “both” sides of a story in a news article…

I wrote this story on the immigration issue for today’s Spartan Daily. I talked to faculty from history, political science, and social science. I talked to a few students whom I thought might be Latino (they were), and a few who I figured weren’t (they weren’t).

And there I was, with a story totally devoid of anyone backing HR 4437. What was my obligation? My editors wanted a voice in there to state the case, but as the day went on, even the Republican leadership in Congress backed off from the whole “illegal immigrants = felons” part of the bill. So, I put in a few calls to U.S. representatives from California who had sponsored or voted for the bill. No dice, no calls back, no one who could give a statement.

Next thing I tried was a conservative group on campus – they thought the legislation was the wrong way to try and solve the problem. If the story wasn’t already up over 800 words, I probably would have thrown a quote from them in the story, but I still didn’t have the counterpoint needed.

What would you do in this case? Would you seek out a fringe group that you KNEW would give you a useful quote?

I called the Minutemen.

The media relations guy picked up his cell phone after a couple rings, then politely answered my questions with a nice long statement on the issue, giving me the “illegal immigrants = felons” bit, plus blaming all involved governments for the problem.

What’s the right thing to do? Should I have asked my editors to hold the story until I got in touch with one of our Reps, or was the Minuteman interview good enough? Should I have walked around campus until I found students who thought deporting 12 million immigrants is a good idea?