Collective Journalism

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Master thesis Philosophy (University of Amsterdam). A theory on the changing role of journalists and citizens in contemporary journalism, based on Bruno Latour's philosophy of science.

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Collective Journalism

  1. 1. COLLECTIVE JOURNALISM A THEORY ON THE CHANGING ROLE OF JOURNALISTS AND CITIZENS IN CONTEMPORARY JOURNALISMDecember 2007Master’s ThesisWijsbegeerte van een WetenschapsgebiedFaculteit der GeesteswetenschappenUniversiteit van AmsterdamBoris S. Nihom Supervisors:Stud. Nr.: 0039667 prof. dr. ing. G.H. de Vriesboris.nihom@student.uva.nl dr. T.M.T. Coolen
  2. 2. FOREWORDWriting a thesis is not supposed to be easy. If it were, it could never serve its function as afinal proof of scientific ability in a student’s quest towards a degree. So when I startedwriting this thesis, I did not cherish the illusion that I was up for an easy task. And althoughit was already the second thesis that I wrote, it was still fun. Or at least it was highlyinteresting. Participatory journalism proved to be an inspiring, multidisciplinary topic. Ihave tried to write a thesis on the crossroads of philosophy and media studies and I believeI have succeeded in doing so.However, I could not have done so without the help of some very important people. First Iwould like to thank my supervisor Gerard de Vries for his patience, his great help and for allof his previous lectures that got me interested in the philosophical backgrounds of thesubject in the first place. Second, I would like to thank Bruno Latour, for teaching me histheory in person during the Spinoza Masterclass in 2005. I feel lucky to have met animportant philosopher, who was in fact still alive at the moment. Third I would like tothank Maurits Martijn, my partner in crime, for all our interesting discussions about thesubject, our little writers holiday to France and of course our important friendship. FourthI would like to thank Jorrit Nuyens, who did more than awesome job being correcting myuse of the English language. Special thanks go out to Dan Gillmor for introducing me to thesubject of citizen journalism. And last but not least I would like to thank my parents forboth my nature and my nurture and especially for still paying my tuition fee.To all readers, please enjoy this thesis and please participate. In this thesis I willcharacterize the publication of any article, journalistic or scientific, as a possible startingpoint of a conversation. To adhere to my own rules I have started a weblog atwww.collectivejournalism.org, where this thesis will be posted under a Creative Commonslicense, alongside a hyperlinked list of references and the option to comment.Boris NihomDecember 2007
  3. 3. ABSTRACTThis thesis deals with the changing roles of two main actors in contemporary journalism,namely The Journalist and The Audience. This change is fuelled by the evolution of theInternet into a truly easily writable mass medium, caused by a set of recent technologicalinnovations often called Web 2.0. The main effect of Web 2.0’s emergence is that themonopoly of the traditional mass media institutions on the creation and diffusion ofinformation is slowly starting to fall apart. Nowadays, everyone with access to the Internetcan share whatever he or she finds relevant, important, or just interesting, with the rest ofthe world.Journalism that involves citizens, layman and amateurs is usually called citizen journalismor participatory journalism. The fast growth of this phenomenon in the last five years hasbeen the subject of many publications from scholars in journalism and media theory aswell as articles from professional journalists and bloggers. In these articles, the advantagesand disadvantages of citizen involvement are usually highlighted. I believe however, thatthe emergence of new forms of journalism causes more fundamental conceptual tensionsabout the way good journalism is perceived. These are the tensions between objectivityand authenticity, between authority and transparency, and between information andconversation.In this thesis I will characterize the changing relationship between journalists and citizens,and solve some of the conceptual tensions that are involved. I will do so by drawing on thework of the French philosopher Bruno Latour, and by employing the methods andconceptual framework that he used in his work on the philosophy of science. Based on histheory of science-in-action, I will argue for and define a theory of collective journalismthat can give us insight into a new journalistic arrangement, which involves both citizensand professional journalists. Collective journalism is defined as fact-building storytellingaimed at all members of a society, which is authentic, transparent, and the reflectionof a conversation that society has with itself; a conversation of which the publicationof any single journalistic article can be a starting point, but should never be itsdefinitive end.
  4. 4. TABLE OF CONTENTS1. INTRODUCTION 52. THE TECHNOLOGY BEHIND WEB 2.0 92.1 SHARING INFORMATION 92.2 PUBLISHING INFORMATION 102.3 FINDING INFORMATION 122.4 USING MULTIMEDIA 143. CITIZEN PARTICIPATION IN JOURNALISM 163.1 WHAT IS JOURNALISM? 163.2 CREATING NEWS 193.2.1 CITIZENS AS EARS AND EYES OF PROFESSIONAL JOURNALISTS 203.2.2 CITIZENS AS MICRO JOURNALISTS 213.2.3 CITIZENS PROVIDING AN ALTERNATIVE VOICE 243.2.4 CONCEPTUAL TENSIONS: OBJECTIVITY AND AUTHENTICITY 253.3 SELECTING NEWS 263.3.1 THE WISDOM OF CROWDS 273.3.2 THE ROLE OF INDIVIDUAL EXPERTS 293.3.3 CONCEPTUAL TENSIONS: AUTHORITY AND TRANSPARENCY 303.4 COMMENTING ON THE NEWS 303.4.1 JOURNALISM AS A CONVERSATION 313.4.2 CONCEPTUAL TENSIONS: INFORMATION AND CONVERSATION 324. JOURNALISM IN ACTION 334.1 LATOUR’S PHILOSOPHY OF SCIENCE 334.2 FROM SCIENCE TO JOURNALISM 37
  5. 5. 5. SETTLING JOURNALISTIC CONTROVERSIES 395.1 JOURNALISM AS SETTLING JOURNALISTIC CONTROVERSIES 395.1.1 WHAT ARE JOURNALISTIC CONTROVERSIES? 405.1.2 CITIZENS AS ALLIES IN SETTLING JOURNALISTIC CONTROVERSIES 425.1.3 CITIZENS REOPENING JOURNALISTIC CONTROVERSIES 435.2 TRANSLATING THE NEWS 455.2.1 TRANSLATION VERSUS DIFFUSION 465.2.2 APPLYING THE MODEL OF TRANSLATION TO JOURNALISM 475.2.3 NEW WAYS OF LOOKING AT COMMENTING 515.3 THE PROOF OF THE FACT IS IN THE COLLECTIVE 525.3.1 THE COLLECTIVE SETTLEMENT OF CONTROVERSIES 535.3.2 JOURNALISM AND TRUTH 555.3.3 JOURNALISM AS A COLLECTIVE EFFORT 565.3.4 USING HYPERLINKS TO MEASURE HE STRENGTH OF COLLECTIVES 576. A THEORY OF COLLECTIVE JOURNALISM 616.1 SOLVING THE CONCEPTUAL TENSIONS 616.1.1 OBJECTIVITY VERSUS AUTHENTICITY 616.1.2 AUTHORITY VERSUS TRANSPARENCY 636.1.3 INFORMATION VERSUS CONVERSATION 656.2 REDEFINING GOOD JOURNALISM 676.3 REDEFINING THE JOURNALIST 686.4 DEFINING COLLECTIVE JOURNALISM 69BIBLIOGRAPHY 72
  6. 6. 1. INTRODUCTIONIn 1990, when Tim Berners-Lee invented HTML, the programming language that forms thebase for hypertextual web pages, one could still argue that the Internet was just anevolutionary step in the history of mass media. When Mosaic, the first graphic web-browseravailable to the public, was released in 1993, the same could be argued. When Googlecreated what now seems to be the definitive search engine, it seemed a logicaldevelopment for the Internet as we knew it. Also, the recent uprising of weblogs andmultimedia content could lead a lay observer to think that the Internet is just progressingin its natural direction and that people are finally finding ways to use it to the fullest.However, looking back at the total development of mass media in the last century, onefinds a major turning point around the year 2000. Not only has the turn of the millenniumbrought us the phantom threat of the millennium bug, a single currency in the Europeanunion and a series of terrorist attacks that would radically alter the geopolitical situation. Ithas also brought us the first mass medium that is easily writable, the Internet, in a newform that people have recently started calling Web 2.0.The traditional mass media were essentially either one-to-one, or one-to-many. The phone,the fax and, to a lesser extent, the telegraph were available to all, but had a limited reach.One could only reach a single other person. The printing press, radio, television andcinema were all one-to-many, but were only in the hands of a small group of people; thetraditional mass media institutions. Essentially, they were all push media. But with theInternet, and specifically Web 2.0, we now have a genuine many-to-many pull medium (orone-to-many, few-to-many or few-to-few, whatever is required by the specific type ofcontent). And it is not going anywhere anytime soon. In the words of Tim Berners-Lee, froman interview with the Dutch newspaper Het Parool: “The chances that the World Wide Webwould collapse, were enormously large. That is what happens to most innovations: they comeand go. Really, it would have taken just a little effort to make it fail. A company, a government,the scientific world, anyone could have stopped the Web. But we passed that point.Nowadays, no-one can turn the Web off anymore” 1.1 Hendrickx 2007 (translation by the author) 5
  7. 7. The main effect of Web 2.0’s emergence is that the monopoly of the traditional mass mediainstitutions on the creation and diffusion of information is slowly starting to fall apart. Thelines between producers and consumers of information have started to blur. Dan Gillmor,the influential technology journalist and founder of the Center for Citizen Media, coinedthe phrase “the former audience” in his book “We, The Media”2 . While in the traditionalview the audience used to be a controllable, passive entity that needed to be fed withinformation, they are now not only selecting their own information but also becomingpart of the process of creating and disseminating information. The word ‘information’should be read in its broadest sense here: entertainment, science, journalism, theinnovation of new technologies and the physical production of (information based) goods.It is important to note that this transition cannot simply be traced back to the rise of theInternet in the mid-90’s, or the rise of the personal computer in the mid-80’s. Of coursethese developments formed the foundation on which this new read/write medium couldbe built. However, it is mostly due to new technologies that emerged in the past five years,that it has become possible for every person with a connection to the Internet to publishits own share of information. Before that, the Internet and specifically the World Wide Webwas of course a medium that linked an unprecedented amount of information, but it stilltook a specific set of tools and skills to be able to contribute to this. Nowadays,contributing is an option that is open to virtually everyone.The effects of this media revolution are visible in all types of information, which werepreviously exclusive to the big institutions of the mass media. However most of itsconsequences can be seen in entertainment and journalism. People have startedpublishing their own movies on Youtube and their own photo’s on Flick’r, they host theirown virtual game shows in World of Warcraft, promote their own music on Myspace, anddirect their own real life soap opera’s on their weblog, some of which can be seen as avoluntary reduction of privacy that goes far beyond the point Big Brother critics havealways been afraid of. Journalism today is characterized by an immense growth of theamount and openness of information available to the public, and by an increase in thepossibility for citizens to create and publish their own journalistic content. In many2 Gillmor 2004: xxv 6
  8. 8. instances, journalists used to be the ones who literally mediated the relationship between‘the public’ and ‘the world out there’. Nowadays, the public has ways to cut out themiddlemen and, as a consequence, has become ever more critical to the functioning ofJournalism itself. We witness, in the words of Dan Gillmor, “Journalism’s transformationfrom a twentieth century mass media structure to something profoundly more grassroots anddemocratic” 3.This thesis focuses on journalism. More specifically, it focuses on the changing role of thetwo main actors in the journalistic arena, namely The Journalist and The Audience. Bothparties nowadays seem to be facing important questions about their mutual involvement.There has always seemed to be a clear division of labor between the two: journalist makenews, citizens consume news. The news simply was out there and readers either bought itor did not. The rise of the writable Internet shows at least that this separation is no longerin effect and that now, theoretically, everyone with a piece of information that he or shefinds relevant, important, or just interesting, can share it with the rest of the world. Atmost, it might show that the strict separation between journalists and citizens, betweenthe media institutions and the audience, between the production and the consumption ofnews has always been an illusion, doomed to be unveiled. In either case we are witnessingthe rise of citizen journalism, sometimes called participatory journalism, in which bothprofessional journalists and citizens, or amateur journalists, each play their role.Marc Chavannes, professor of Journalism at the University of Groningen, expressed his viewon this changing role pattern as follows: “Within a few years, the big-media have lost theircollective monopoly on uncovering news. The 8 o’clock news is a national family momentthat a lot of people would rather loose, but he who does is not hopelessly uninformed. Thenews is everywhere”4. In another article he commented on the changing role of professionaljournalists: “In my ideal world, the journalist is a moderator who guides current events,elaborates on them en provides them with context, together with serious citizens who feeltaken seriously” 5.3 Ibdem p. xxiii4 Chavannes 2007: 1 (translation by the author)5 Termeer 2007: 5 (translation by the author) 7
  9. 9. In the remaining of this thesis, I will dive deeply into the contemporary relationshipbetween journalists and citizens. By drawing on the work of the French philosopher BrunoLatour, and by employing the methods and conceptual framework that he used in his workon the philosophy of science, I will characterize this relationship and solve some of theconceptual tensions that are involved. Finally I will argue for and define a theory ofcollective journalism that can give us insight into a new journalistic arrangement, whichinvolves both citizens and professional journalists. By using this theory it is possible todifferentiate between good and bad journalism, regardless of the formal job description ofthe people and things initially involved in the news making process.For now, it is important to describe in more detail the different manifestations of this newkind of journalism that is made possible by the emergence of web 2.0. First, in chapter 2, Iwill describe some of the technologies that made it all workable in the first place. This isnecessary, in my view, to gain complete understanding of the differences between Web1.0 and Web 2.0, which have fundamentally changed the way in which people can use theInternet. Then, in chapter 3, I will describe some of the ways in which both professionaljournalists and citizens are using these technologies for the production, selection andconsumption of news and the conceptual tensions that this has as its result.In chapter 4 I will explain Bruno Latour’s theory in detail. From his theory I will derive amethod (looking at journalism ‘in action’) and three main concepts (controversy, translationand collective). These method and concepts will be used to characterize contemporaryjournalism in chapter 5. In chapter 6, the concluding chapter of this thesis, I will solve theconceptual tensions mentioned in chapter 3 by redefining the tensions in terms of thejournalistic adaptation of Latour’s theory. I will argue why a theory of collective journalismis better suited to the issues of our time than a theory of citizen or participatoryjournalism, while staying true to the original values of journalism in general. 8
  10. 10. 2. THE TECHNOLOGY BEHIND WEB 2.0The emergence of a writable web did not just happen from one day to the next. Peoplehave always been able to share information through the Internet. The widespread use of e-mail is the most prominent example of this, but mailing lists and newsgroups were alsoaround from the earliest days of the Internet, even before the web became graphic. Thesewere mostly one-to-few applications though, in which a certain person shared hisinformation with a designated group of people. These people got the information pushedto them instead of being able to pull it of the web whenever they wanted to.What is new about the toolkit, which carries the name of Web 2.0, is that it enables peopleto publish information, and not just share it. Also, it enables people to find relevantinformation fast and thorough, instead of waiting for it to be pushed to them while theycan do nothing but hope it is relevant. Furthermore, it enables the use of moving images,photo’s and audio to enhance the information value.In this chapter I will describe the aforementioned tools for sharing information in moredetail. This will be followed by a description of the new tools that enable the publishingand finding of relevant information, and the production of multimedia content.2.1 SHARING INFORMATIONThe act of sharing information was the basic purpose for which the Internet was designed.Initially, this meant scientific or military information, but as soon as the public gainedaccess, e-mail was one of the first features of the Internet, which immediately proved to bequite useful. The ability to send a pretty large amount of textual information to any otherperson in the world at virtually no costs (except for, of course, the money paid to gainaccess in the first place) was a giant leap forward for scientists, business people andjournalists, but also for grandparents, (future) lovers and lost friends.It didn’t take long before people started to realize that if you can send out e-mail to asingle other person, you can also send it out to a group of other persons. And so, the firstmailing lists emerged. For example, Dave Farber, a telecommunications professor at theUniversity of Pennsylvania, already had a mailing list called “Interesting People” in themid-80’s. If he saw something that he found interesting, he would pass it on. He did not find 9
  11. 11. the information himself. Correspondents he knew mostly sent it to him, or he would justread it in the newspaper. However, it was he who selected what was interesting orimportant. As he said himself: “I consider myself an editor in the real sense. This is a funnyform of new newspaper, where the Net is sort of my wire service. My job is to decide what goesout and what doesn’t”6 . Nowadays, Dave Farber is far from alone in his mailing list operation.There are no exact figures on how many mailing lists there are out there. All I know is that Iam subscribed to at least twelve, write one myself and that I am not the only one doing so.In the early days of the Internet, there was a specific popular protocol for a service similarto mailing lists. This protocol is called Usenet and instead of ‘mailing lists’ people used theterm ‘newsgroups’. The big difference with mailing lists is, that it is not up to the sender todecide who can apply. Anyone can subscribe himself to a newsgroup and receive all thepostings that are sent to this newsgroup. Sending is done simply by sending an e-mail to acentral mailing address from which the text would be distributed to all subscribers. At theheydays of Usenet there were thousands of newsgroups, covering every subject one couldthink of, including most things considered illegal or immoral.Nowadays, Usenet is not as popular as it used to be. Not because its specific use is notconsidered valuable anymore, but merely because there is an easier method to achievethe same result, which is the use of forums. These are basically newsgroups that work viathe Web instead of via e-mail. The main advantage is that now all the benefits of the Webcan be used; from sharing multimedia content and using hyperlinks, to using advancedtechnology like cookies (little hidden programs that remember a user’s preferences).2.2 PUBLISHING INFORMATIONSharing information with a predefined, relatively small group of ‘known’ people is onething, but publishing information to the public at large is quite another. The technicalability to do so is one of the main characteristics of Web 2.0. It truly happens and is widelysupported by the Internet community. We will look into some specific manifestations ofWeb 2.0, focused on journalism, in the next chapter. For now, let’s focus on thetechnologies that make this all possible.6 In: Gillmor 2004: 19 10
  12. 12. The main obstacle the Internet had to overcome before becoming writable was the factthat building a website was fairly hard. One either had to learn HTML or difficult websiteauthoring software such as Adobe GoLive or Flash, which were mostly aimed at theprofessional design industry. This changed with the invention of two different types oftechnologies that separated content from appearance: Cascaded Style Sheets (CSS) andContent Management Systems (CMS). It is beyond the scope of this thesis to go into detailon either of these technologies. But simply put, it works like this: the programming codethat determines the looks of a website is made by a professional designer and is saved intoa CSS that applies to all future information that will be put on the website. Through a CMSevery individual user has the ability to upload their content, which will be automaticallyshaped into the predefined style of the website in general.Using these technologies, it was now possible for companies to start building ‘empty’websites, which could later be filled by its users. The prime example of this is the weblog.The weblog (or ‘blog’), is usually built on the basis of a weblog-publishing site like Blogger,Wordpress, or the Dutch blog publisher Blogo.nl. These sites provide their users with anicely designed weblog framework and easy software to fill it with content.Today, there are blogs on every thinkable subject. According to weblog search engineTechnorati, there were 70 million weblogs in April 2007 7 . Blogs can be really personal anddeal with a person’s private life or a specific undertaking, like a long journey to a remotecountry. On the other side of the spectrum, blogs can be about specific technologies,politics, or a specific domain in science. Somewhere in between, blogs can be about theauthor’s view on the world around him or her, and can be written in a more or lessjournalistic fashion. Some people consider the blog to be a specific genre. I think they areright for as far as the highly personal, diary-like blogs are concerned. For disseminatingscientific or journalistic content however, it is just a technology for publication. All thatdefines weblogs is that they are “online journals, comprised of links and postings in reversechronological order”8 . These postings are usually short and frequently updated. They cancontain text, images, video or just a collection of hyperlinks to other web pages. On some7 Sifry 20078 Gillmor 2004: 29 11
  13. 13. blogs only a specified person is authorized to post, while others give people the option tocomment. And then there are some blogs, like the famous tech-blog Slashdot.org, that areentirely written by their virtual community.Another famous example of a website that thrives on content provided by its community isWikipedia, the free online encyclopedia. Wikipedia is based on the technology of wiki’s,invented by Ward Cunningham in de late 1990’s. A wiki can be defined as: “a server programthat allows users to collaborate in forming the content of a website. With a wiki, users can editthe site content, including other users’ contributions, using a regular web browser”9 .Wikipedia started in English on Januari 15, 2001 as an open-source, free encyclopedia. As ofNovember 2006, there are Wikipedias in 174 different languages that have more than 100articles, 51 of which have over 10,000 articles, and 17 of which have over 50,000 articles.Following the English language Wikipedia, one of the top-10 most visited websites on theInternet, the German, French, Polish, Japanese, Dutch, Italian, Portuguese, Swedish,Spanish, Russian and Finnish editions have over 100,000 articles each. The company behindWikipedia, called Wikimedia also initiated side projects like Wikibooks, Wikinews,Wikiquote and the Wiktionary. Others have taken up the concept and put it to their ownuse, like the open-source travel guide Wikitravel. Also, the wiki technology is being usedmore and more by companies and other private institutions to serve as an internalknowledge database 10 .2.3 FINDING INFORMATIONNeedless to say, it is necessary for a medium, through which so much information is soeasily published, to be highly searchable. What do you need massive amounts ofinformation for, if you cannot find what you need? Search technology has therefore been ahuge business ever since the Internet has become available to the public.There is a big difference however, between the search technologies from the past and thesearch technologies from the present and, presumably, the future. Past technologies could9 Jennings 200610 Wikipedia 2007 12
  14. 14. be rightfully labeled search technologies: they helped a user searching for some specificinformation, which he himself found relevant. In contrast, modern search technologybehaves more like find technologies. The network itself aggregates all availableinformation and finds whatever it thinks is relevant for a certain user, based on searchentries of varying specificity. Sometimes, these technologies are therefore also calledaggregation engines. Since the rise of these find-technologies, it is no longer a matter ofbeing found, but one of being found relevant.The first search engines, like Yahoo and Altavista, were simple. When given a query, theycompared the search terms to all the web pages in their database. Then they ranked thepages according to their overlap with the search word or sentence. But in 1995, twoStanford Univiersity students developed a new kind of search engine: Google.Google radically changed the way search engines work. Using their own algorithm calledPageRank, Page and Brin developed a search engine that not only searches for overlapbetween a search query and a web page, but also estimates the relevance of a page basedon it’s popularity. As is written on their own website: “PageRank relies on the uniquelydemocratic nature of the web by using its vast link structure as an indicator of an individualpages value. In essence, Google interprets a link from page A to page B as a vote, by page A,for page B. But, Google looks at considerably more than the sheer volume of votes, or links apage receives; for example, it also analyzes the page that casts the vote. Votes cast by pagesthat are themselves ‘important’ weigh more heavily and help to make other pages ‘important’.Using these and other factors, Google provides its views on pages relative importance” 11 .It is vital for the rest of this thesis, to understand the implications of PageRank: itempowers people to influence the likelihood that any given piece of information onlinewill be found as a result of a search query, by linking to this piece of information from theirown website, blog or other web-based medium. So keep this in mind when you aresearching something on Google: an anonymous mob and an equally anonymous algorithmare helping you and those with equal search terms decide what to find relevant.11 Google 2007 13
  15. 15. There is another example of a find technology, that works just like this: RSS. Thistechnology makes it possible to add a multitude of tags to a piece of information, like ablog posting or an article published online. For example, this thesis could have beentagged ‘thesis’, ‘journalism’, ‘web 2.0’, ‘Internet’, ‘philosophy’, etc. Readers can thendownload an RSS reader, and subscribe to any number of weblogs or other pages with a so-called RSS feed. By telling the RSS reader which tags you are interested in, the readerautomatically refreshes at a certain interval, showing you all new postings that carry thespecified tags. So depending on which tags you tell the program you find interesting, theprogram aggregates all information and decides which parts are relevant.A last type of find engines contains those engines that are not based on an algorithm at all,but strictly on the social capacities of the Internet. Del.icio.us is, for example, a websitewhich enables people to store their bookmarks online. Based on a comparison betweenyour bookmarks and those of all the other people on Del.icio.us, the website recommendsother sites to you that you will probably be interested in. Using the same principle, theonline store Amazon.com was the first store to inform customers with the buying behaviorof potential like minds. This is a function now seen as a key advantage of online stores overtheir real world counterparts. Last.fm does the same for webradio, based on the musicplaylist on your computer. Further, there are technologies like Digg and eKudos, whichprovide readers with a way to rate blog-postings, so the program can decide whether ornot to recommend a certain posting to someone.In short, people have more power to influence what other people will find when they aresearching, since the emergence of Web 2.0. So because of Web 2.0, people have morepower to influence what is found relevant and what makes it to the political, social orjournalistic agenda. Meanwhile, the guys at Google are on a quest to map all theinformation in the world based on these principles.2.4 USING MULTIMEDIAA last feature of Web 2.0 is based on two developments that mutually enhance each other:broadband and compression. While the Internet keeps getting faster and faster, diversecompanies come up with solutions to compress huge amounts of data, especially images,audio and video. Also, at the same time, digital (video) cameras keep getting smaller, 14
  16. 16. cheaper and better, as do the cameras on mobile phones. Consequently, the web isbecoming writable not only in a textual, but also in an audiovisual way, which previouslyseemed to be exclusive to the traditional mass media.Consumers of information used to see most of the world through the eyes of the massmedia. Now, there is an army of reporters out there on the street that can capture andpublish whichever image they like. With the push of a button people can show you theirboy- or girlfriend, their pet, how well they can dance, sing or play the piano, what theirhouse looks like, or – regardless of the subject – how good a photographer or filmmakerthey consider themselves to be. Websites like Youtube (for video), Flickr (for foto’s) andMyspace (used widely for music), are filled up every single day with incredible amounts ofso called user generated content.By far the largest part of this information is personal content, or entertainment basedcontent. However, the modern multimedia toolkit also gave us world famous images of the9/11 terrorist attacks, the London city metro bombings, the New Orleans flooding and the2004 Tsunami. This gives a whole new meaning to the word ‘eye witness’. Questions abouthow many people actually take part in this phenomenon are interesting, but are not ofmajor importance in the scope of this these. For a conceptual understanding of thedevelopments that are taking place, one just has to look at the options for participationthese technologies create.Since new methods of sharing, publishing and finding information are combined withmodern multimedia technologies, we see a whole new media landscape arising. Web 2.0forms the basis for a new window through which we see the world. No longer is the scopeof our worldview limited by the subjective or agenda-driven determination of relevance,made by a select group of experts, journalists, reporters, editors, filmmakers or writers. Weourselves have the tools in hands to publish and select the facts and opinions that shapeour view of the world, spread those facts and opinions and comment on the view of others.The next chapter will be dedicated to how this new media landscape has changed thejournalistic practice. I will describe several ways in which citizens are using theirnewfound ability to create, select and comment on journalistic information. 15
  17. 17. 3. CITIZEN PARTICIPATION IN JOURNALISMIn the previous chapter, I described some of the most influential technologies behind Web2.0 and the new participatory journalism movement. That is, however, not enough to fullyencompass the changes brought about by this development. In analyzing journalism, oneshould not only focus on the technologies behind journalism and the changing mediachannels through which information flows. In addition, one should look at how thesetechnologies are used and what it is that journalists, professional or amateur, do. So beforeturning on my philosophical flashlight to shine some light on the conceptualcharacteristics of participatory journalism, I should first take a walk through the newlandscape in which these concepts have become relevant.I will describe the new journalistic landscape and specifically focus on the role of thetraditional journalist and the former audience in more ‘human’ and practical terms insteadof the technological terms than were used in the previous chapter. First, I will take a shortlook at the definition of journalism, to see what can be analyzed as such and what cannot.Then I will look at the three levels on which citizens engage in journalism. I will concludeeach of these three paragraphs with some broader observations on the differencesbetween old en new journalism, the concepts involved and the tensions between them.Solving these conceptual tensions will be the primary goal of my analysis in the secondpart of this thesis. It is important to note that the separation of journalism into threedifferent levels is only for the purpose of conceptualization. In the real world, and in themodel presented in the next chapter of this thesis, these three levels are mixed up andsometimes even indistinguishable.3.1 WHAT IS JOURNALISM?The main problem one encounters when trying to find a definition of journalism is thatmore than often journalists themselves use a fairly tautological description of their work.To them, journalism is ‘what journalists do’ or “whatever people generally recognized asjournalists do whenever they say they are doing their jobs”12 . The problem with thisdefinition is that it provides no boundaries as to who can be counted as journalist and whocannot. They are neither inclusive nor exclusive in nature so they are useless when12 Van Eick 2005. In Dasselaar 2006: 42 16
  18. 18. analyzing journalism practiced by people whose identity as journalists is at stake in thefirst place. And not only do these definitions fail to tell us who is a journalist and who is not,their focus on recognition makes it unnecessarily complicated to use them in multiplesocial environments, each with their own implicit standards of recognition. Can ‘corporatejournalists’ be considered journalists? Are ‘citizen journalists’ recognized as journalists? Tosome they are, to others they are not. This incongruence of the definition is at the heart ofthe matter.Another possible route to defining journalism, is to look at journalism as an occupationwhich serves a certain goal or set of goals. In 2001, Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstielpublished a book called “The Elements of Journalism” in which they define journalism onthe basis of nine elements: 1. Journalism’s first obligation is to the truth 2. Its first loyalty is to citizens 3. Its essence is a discipline of verification 4. Its practitioners must maintain an independence from those they cover 5. It must serve as an independent monitor of power 6. It must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise 7. It must strive to make the significant interesting and relevant 8. It must keep the news comprehensive and proportional 9. Its practitioners must be allowed to exercise their personal conscience.These elements combined ultimately lead to their definition: “The primary purpose ofjournalism is to provide citizens with the information they need to be free and self governing”13 .Journalism can also be defined as a description of what journalists do: “The profession ofgathering, editing and publishing news reports and related articles for newspapers,magazines, television, or radio” 14 . Dutch researchers Van Eick15 and Deuze 16 also take this13 Kovach & Rosenstiel 2001: 1714 The Encarta World English Dictionary 200715 Van Eick 200516 Deuze 2005 17
  19. 19. route albeit in a much more abstract way. Both conclude that the heart of journalism lies instorytelling. The ability to turn a simple state of affairs into a narrative, is what separatesjournalism from the mere reporting of facts, as happens for example in an encyclopedia.Elements number 7 and 8 from Kovach and Rosenstiel’s description can be said to describethis part of the process of storytelling. It is this competence of professional journalists thatis widely used to argue against the involvement of citizens. They are believed not toposses this competence, due to a lack of professional education or talent.In the next chapter I will argue on philosophical grounds that there is also anotherpossible way of defining storytelling, which is different from the task of writing nice storiesand turning simple events into narratives with a beginning, a middle, and an end. In thisdefinition, storytelling is comparable with showing that ones interpretation of relevantevents is the right one and the capacity of turning simple facts into a comprehensiblenarrative is one of the resources which can be used in doing so. And since I, along withKovach & Rosenstiel, defined the goals of journalism as “providing citizens with theinformation they need to be free and self-governing” and since “a journalists firstobligation is to the truth”, I believe a journalist should and will always try to show why hisinterpretation of relevant events is right. That is why I argue that storytelling is theessence of journalism, contributing to all 9 elements, and can therefore function as ademarcation criterion between good and bad journalism, but not a priori betweencitizens and journalists.Combining all the aforementioned methods and definitions, Arjan Dasselaar arrives at thefollowing definition in his influential empirical investigation into the world of webloggers,“The Fifth Estate; On the journalistic aspects of the Dutch blogosphere”: “Journalism is truthseeking storytelling aimed at citizens, which is editorially independent”17 . His definition isvery open: it can include both professional and nonprofessional journalists and what isregarded ‘news’ can vary, as long as it seeks a truthful reporting and explanation of eventsand is editorially independent. It is this definition of journalism that I will use in theremaining parts of my thesis and which can also serve as the basis for a definition ofcollective journalism.17 Dasselaar 2006: 47 18
  20. 20. In the following three paragraphs I will describe the role of citizens in the (online)journalistic process, based on this definition and some of the elements of journalism asdefined by Kovach and Rosenstiel. I will look concretely at how citizens are involved onthree different levels: creating news, selecting news and commenting on the news.3.2 CREATING NEWSThe most commonly known form of participatory journalism, or citizen journalism, is theone where citizens actively participate in creating the news. This is essentially not a newdevelopment. If we go back in time a little, we find examples of pirate radio, fanzines andamateur ‘newspapers’ made with a typewriter, glue, a pair of scissors and an old copier.However, since Web 2.0 made mass-diffusion of information possible, people have startedto use their ability to engage more and more.According to Gillmor, the population of news-creating citizens consists of two types ofpeople. First are the people who have been practicing some form of participatoryjournalism, in their own way, before the read/write web became available. These peopleare the ones who used to write letters to the editor, made small, local, and often criticalamateur magazines or made the amateur fanzines and newspapers mentioned above. Theyare the people that could and can be found in for example underground music scenes orpolitical activist movements. Second is the former audience: people who used to bepassive consumers of the news, but who are now becoming a source of information forother citizens and for professional journalists18 . Members of the former audience havedifferent motives for engaging in journalism, ranging from the simple technical possibility(as described in chapter 2) to the satisfaction of certain needs. Bowmann and Willisdescribe some of these needs, including the will to be heard, the will to connect withothers who have similar interests, the will to gain status in a given community and the willto inform others on a specific field in which one is an expert 19 .18 Gillmor 200419 Bowmann & Willis 2006: 47 19
  21. 21. According to Gillmor: “The issues of our time are too complex, too nuanced, for the majormedia to cover properly, given the economic realties of modern corporate journalism” 20 . I willnow describe a number of reasons in which citizen journalists have proven to be useful toprofessional journalists and provide an example for each one.3.2.1 CITIZENS AS EARS AND EYES OF PROFESSIONAL JOURNALISTSThe most commonly known form of citizen journalism is highly based on multimediatechnology. It is a form in which citizens are not really ‘doing journalism’, but are merelyacting as a source for professional journalists, providing photos, videos and audiorecordings to the press. Whether the content is provided directly to the press or mediatedby websites such as Youtube, Flick’r or the specialized Dutch news website Skoeps.nl (whichclaims to have “16 million reporters”, equaling the number of citizens in The Netherlands),the point is that there are far more citizens with a camera (or mobile phone) than thereare professional reporters. Another advantage is the considerable shortening ofjournalistic response-time. While it may take some time for professional reporters to cometo the scene, there will always be some people ready on the spot to record the events.This is not a completely new development though. People would not have seen theassassination of John F. Kennedy if it were not for a citizen with a camera. People wouldn’thave seen, let alone have rioted over the Rodney King beatings if it were not for a citizencapturing what happened. These events, where the audience got to feel present at, usedto be exceptions to the rule. Most of what happened in the world that was not covered bythe traditional press, stayed in the dark. However, since the dispersal of the digital cameraand the camera-equipped mobile phone, having a witness on the spot is the rule. Also inthe past, journalists found out much of what they knew from people who told them things.But nowadays, people do not have to find a journalist first who finds the time to listen.Whether the press responds or not, people can always publish the material themselves.And while of course the traditional mass media are still the best option to go for if youwant to reach a large audience, the competition is fierce. We cannot neglect the onebillion mobile phones sold in 2006 alone 21 and the possibilities they bring along.20 Gillmor 2004: 10321 Palmer 2006 20
  22. 22. As obvious and ubiquitous as is it, this is still a fairly controversial form of participatoryjournalism. Why? Because most ‘traditional’ journalists, when asked their opinion aboutcitizen journalism, point out this feature and argue that citizens should not pretend to bejournalists, when they are merely its eyes and ears. Famous Dutch new media journalistFrancisco van Jole, who is also a rigorous citizen journalism critic, made this point onseveral occasions. In the next chapter, we will see that a philosophical misunderstanding iscausing this skepticism. Having people to serve as their eyes and ears is not a mere task atall, but an essential property of the way in which journalists enable themselves to achievetheir goals in the first place. Trying to keep up a strict division between journalists on onehand and society on the other causes more problems than that it solves.3.2.2 CITIZENS AS MICRO JOURNALISTSMarshall McLuhan once said: "For any problem, there is a person or persons in a largepopulation of educated people that doesnt see it as a problem"22 . For journalism this couldbe paraphrased as: “For every event, there is someone who has more knowledge or astronger opinion about it than others”. This person might be willing to cover the event andturn it into a news story. This is the key aspect of the next form of citizen news production Iwant to discuss and that I will call micro journalism or micropublishing. Instead of citizensacting as sources or supplying content to journalists, we are now talking about citizenstaking up some or all of the tasks of professional journalists and publishing their owncontent on their own website or on some sort of institutionalized participatory journalismendeavor. These usually take the form of a weblog, because it is by far the easiest way to doso by far. Keep in mind though, that the weblog is just a technology and not per se a genreor medium in itself.The principle behind micro-journalism is called ‘The Long Tail’, a term coined by ChrisAnderson, editor-in-chief of the influential technology magazine Wired23 . Part of histheory is this: on the Internet, the storage of large amounts of information is unlimited inits capacity and theoretically costless. The relative costs of an extra unit of information areconsequently nil, in contrary to goods in the real world. That’s why it becomes interesting22 In: Gillmor 2004: 10823 Anderson 2006 21
  23. 23. for media organizations, and affordable to citizen-owned initiatives, to cater to a largeamount of small audiences instead of a small amount of large audiences. Of course therearen’t enough journalists to cover all the events that all small audiences find interesting,but it is possible to cater to as much small audiences as there are people with journalisticaspirations. Considering then the fact that more than one billion people are onlinetoday24 , for every event there is indeed a high chance that there is a person willing tocover it. This creates the opportunity for highly localized and highly specialist or expert-based journalism.A famous example of highly localized news is the free online and offline newspaperBluffton Today, in a rapidly growing city in the state of South Carolina. The newspaper has acirculation of about 17.000 and the website blufftontoday.com is visited 36 times eachmonth per household25 . All content, both on the website and in the printed version, issupplied by the over 2000 registered users, some of whom are professional journalists, butmost are just members of the community. Another example is the Melrose Mirror, an onlinepublication in Melrose, Massachusetts. It was founded by MIT’s News-In-The-FutureConsortium and is being edited by a group of senior citizens who do so out of love for thecommunity. Outside of the United States, big national newspapers like the French LeMonde or local Dutch newspaper Twentsche Courant Turbantia and local television stationRTV Utrecht have (parts of) their online counterpart dedicated to local news and edited bylocal citizens.Another common form of micropublishing is the expert blog. These are blogs, coveringnews from a certain area of expertise. This type of blogs is most popular within the ICT(macworld.com), technology (bright.nl) and marketing (adage.com) communities, not inthe last place because the people in these fields were early adapters of the Internetphenomenon itself. However, also in other fields like cars (autoblog.com) or audioequipment (gearslutz.com), the number of expert blogs and forums is growing very rapidly.24 See http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats.htm25 Blanken & Deuze 2007: 92 22
  24. 24. The last form of micro journalism is aimed at the grassroots. Advocates from a specific areaof the political spectrum can have their own online publications, like the Belgianprogressive liberal website www.liberales.be or the Dutch neo-conservative websitewww.conservatismeweb.com. Finally, websites can be devoted to covering all the ins andouts of particular social issues, like climate change (realclimate.org).This development creates tremendous options for traditional mass media organizationsand professional journalists in both their online and offline activities. They can collect thebest news items from these alternative sources and cover them. In their article “The powerand politics of blogs”, Drezner and Farrell show that this is exactly what happens and this‘trickle-up’ effect is what made some notorious webloggers into professional journalists oreven celebrities, like the now world famous blogger Instapundit. Even if the name of theoriginal blogger stays unknown, traditional media organizations are building more oftenon stories that citizens first brought under their attention26 .There is a lot of skepticism towards these amateur news sites and weblogs. Traditionaljournalists do not acknowledge most of them. They suspect them of being focused toomuch on the private life and subjective views of the author and not following the rules andgoals of journalism. As some journalist said, in a study by Marci McCoy Roth from 2004: “[theblogosphere is] people incessantly spewing their thoughts and opinion on every possibletopic” 27 . Or: “the round hole into which all bloggers dump their random thought”28 .Surely, there are practical issues to be solved about for example accreditation and libeland there are theoretical issues to be solved on matters of objectivity, credibility andtransparency. To quote another journalist from the Roth study: “What’s frightening to me, asa ‘mainstream journalist’, is that anyone can set up a blog and start spewing opinions. Don’tget me wrong here, I think blogging is a great opportunity to unite news consumers andproducers. But I spend a good deal of my time answering e-mails as to why the mainstream26 Drezner & Farrell 200427 McCoy Roth 2004: 428 Ibdem p. 4 23
  25. 25. media isn’t chasing down some […] crazy rumor tossed out by a blogger who hasn’t tried to,or doesn’t know how to, verify facts”29 .The real question nonetheless is whether this should be a reason to distinguish a prioribetween citizens and journalist, or just a posteriori differentiate the good news from thebad. But aside from answering that question, we should not forget one simple thing: thedevelopment is unstoppable. At this moment, there are over a million weblogs in theNetherlands30 . From an exploratory research in the USA, Susan Herring and her colleaguesargue that about 3 percent of all weblogs has the intention of spreading knowledge in away that resembles journalism31 . This would lead us to conclude that there are about30.000 bloggers with some journalistic aspirations. That is already about twice the totalpopulation of Dutch professional journalists and these numbers do not seem to decline 32 .All in all it seems that for every event there is truly someone out there willing to turn itinto a story.3.2.3 CITIZENS PROVIDING AN ALTERNATIVE VOICENext to certain issues being too small, too local or too specialist to be covered by thetraditional news media, there is another reason that certain people feel they need tospeak out and report on things that normally do not make it to the news. Some issues arejust too controversial, or go against the leading opinion of the mainstream press. In somecountries it is even not allowed to say certain things at all.The two most well known independent online news and opinion magazine are theAmerican Independent Media Centre, also known as Indymedia and the KoreanOhmyNews.com. Indymedia is the more traditional of the two, being founded in 1999 bytwo anti globalization activists, who wanted to cover the Seattle WTO meeting from analternative perspective. Having people with cameras on the street filming protesters whogot molested by police officials, Indymedia proved to be a serious burden for US politics29 Ibdem p. 1930 Wieringa, 200631 Herring, Scheidt, Bonus & Wright 200632 Blanken & Deuze 2007 24
  26. 26. and serious competitor for traditional media. Nowadays, Indymedia is a large independentnews organization, with dozens of people all over the world providing content.Contrary to Indymedia, OhmyNews.com didn’t stem from the political activist movement,but was deliberately set out to be a citizen journalist enterprise. However, it gave a voiceto ten thousands of people, who wouldn’t be heard by the pretty conservative news elitein South Korea. OhmyNews.com is now both a website and a weekly printed edition, thatare completely composed of amateur stories but edited by professional editors. The morenewsworthy the item is, the higher it is on the webpage and the more the original authorgets paid. This way, more than 15.000 people have already published one or more articlesand the site draws millions of visitors daily.There are also countries where people are truly in need of an independent news medium,simply because talking about certain subjects or having certain political views isdangerous. Persianblog.com for example, is a website where Iranians can discuss mattersthat are not allowed to be discussed freely, let alone be published about in traditionalmedia: sex, politics and popular culture.3.2.4 CONCEPTUAL TENSIONS: OBJECTIVITY AND AUTHENTICITYWhat I have been describing above is just the tip of the iceberg. But it helps to gain someunderstanding in the way the new journalism landscape begins to take form. And whenanalyzing at the examples, I think that for as far as creating news is concerned, it is not amatter of choice between professional and amateur journalist. What matters is the factthat there are arrangements possible in which both professional journalists and amateurshave their role, that enables people to have their say and make sure that more diversevoices can be heard. Yes, most weblogs are only interesting to the writer and maybe theirgirlfriend or mother (considering the not empirically supported prejudice that mostbloggers are men), but this should not be a reason to dismiss the value of blogs altogether.Quality of the reporting should of course always be preserved. But that quality issomething that can no longer be judged a priori, just by looking at who does the reporting.It seems that either McLuhan provided us with a good account of the situation today, orthat he has always been right and only now we see ways how to put the collective 25
  27. 27. knowledge, time and willingness of the former audience to good use. As Gillmor is oftenquoted: “my readers know more than I do”. Or, as he was corrected in an interview with NYUassociate journalism professor Jay Rosen: “my readers know more than I do and I can tap thatbecause they will tell me” 33 .In their book “PopUp; the clash between old and new media”, Dutch journalist HenkBlanken and media scholar Mark Deuze argue that: “Journalism has not become anhonorable profession by playing a crucial role in the maturing of the democratic state. Theprofessionalization has more to do with the ever-enduring commercialization of the business.They values and standards of journalism – truthfulness, objectivity, ethics – originated fromthe need of publisher, broadcasting companies and advertisers to reach the biggest possibleaudience” 34 . As we have seen, this need for centralized news is not at stake anymore. It isjust as expensive to cater to a hundred small audiences, as it is to serve the single biggestpossible audience. Citizens are willing to come up with the content, straight from thegrassroots of their own local community or community of interest. Therefore a conceptualtension exists between objectivity and authenticity. It is this tension that will be the firstone to be solved at the end of my investigation.3.3 SELECTING NEWSIf we would allow the public only to participate in creating the news in a theory ofparticipatory journalism, we would forget one of the major implications of Web 2.0technology. Because of the filter and search-engine mechanisms I described in chapter 2,readers not only have the power to contribute to the agenda, they now also have thepower to influence the agenda. The former audience has a say in what is important orrelevant, not by selecting what is relevant before publication as happens in traditionalnewsrooms, but by selecting from a large amount of already published information on theInternet. Journalists used to think that, in their interaction with society, they decidedupon the relevant topics. But now we have a situation in which journalists are part of asociety that in a way sets its own topics and provide its own context, by strengthening thevalue of a given piece of information in a given find engine.33 Rosen 200434 Blanken & Deuze 2007: 11. Translation by the author 26
  28. 28. 3.3.1 THE WISDOM OF CROWDSThe main reason that people engage in news-selection lies in technology. Not onlybecause it is possible to do so in an easy manner for a large group of people, but alsobecause the laws of the long tail have fundamentally changed publishing. Since thedissemination of information is almost free, the order of journalism (or any informationproducing genre for that matter) went from ‘filter, then publish’ to ‘publish, then filter’.Nevertheless, it is common sense that one cannot pay attention to an unlimited amount ofstimuli at the same time with an equal amount of awareness per stimulus. Try reading anewspaper and watching television at the same time, while someone is talking to you. Soin an attempt not to drown in the enormous information overload that the Internet cansometimes seem to cause, people develop better and more efficient search and selectionmechanisms, both in technology and in their minds.The other reason for people to engage in active news-selection is that they just wantbetter news. And by putting collective search, tag and link mechanisms to good usepeople can achieve that. When Gillmor speaks about readers knowing more thanjournalists do, he does not only mean that readers can be a journalists ears and eyes or thatreaders can cover items for which professional journalists do not have the time, the moneyor the interest. He also refers to a principle that is called the wisdom of crowds, whichstates that when choosing the best option from a set of alternatives, a large crowd willalways on average do a better job than the single most intelligent individual in that crowd.In his book “The wisdom of crowds”, first published in 2004, columnist James Surowieckidescribed the phenomenon. When three specific rules apply, he states, the mean of themass is sometimes a better shot at the truth than the single claim of the most intelligentindividual in that mass. The rules are diversity (the crowd has to be heterogeneous, toensure that the people’s choices will indeed differ from one another), independence(people have to be able to make a choice independent from one another, to ensure thatthe people’s choices are not influenced by one another) and decentralization (there needsto be no centralized source asserting power over the choice of the individuals).When these three rules are applied, we see the wisdom of crowds in effect: the averagebet for the winning horse in horseracing is almost always correct. Ask a crowd of people 27
  29. 29. how many marbles there are in a jar and no one will be right, but their mean guess will beclose to the truth. When the Columbia space shuttle crashed, a specific manufacturingcompany’s stocks immediately declined. It then took a couple of years to ‘officially’ find outthat this company was indeed guilty of the crash. And while exit polls in elections cansometimes differ very much from the truth, having a virtual stock market where peoplecan bet on who they think will win almost always predicts the winner. Notice however,that betting on who will win does not necessary has to be equal to who one is going to votefor himself, a decision that can be very much influenced by social factors and thus violatesthe rule of independence 35 .The wisdom of crowds is both a highly overrated and a highly underrated phenomenon. Itis overrated by supporters of the theory, who tend to view it as a new route towards mass-intelligence or collaborative innovation and by opponents of the theory who fear thetheory to be an excuse for exaggerated forms of populism. It is however underrated bythose who are indifferent and point out the fact that it is not a theory of ‘wisdom’ but justthe application of a statistical principle.Essentially they are right; the wisdom of crowds is merely a combination between the lawof large numbers and the idea of a large group of people in which every individual has apiece of the puzzle. In all of the examples mentioned above, we see this in effect. Jarguessing is plain statistics. Horserace betting is mostly statistics and a little bit of ‘solvingthe information puzzle’ and this is the other way around in the space shuttle example.However, while we in fact have two types of crowd wisdom, one being collective guessingand the other being collective correction on the basis of little bits of information, whencombined in an interactive mass medium the wisdom of crowds becomes usable. Notbecause the crowd is good at providing new information, but because through collectiveguessing and mutual correcting they crowd is good at selecting from a set of alternatives.When applied to journalism, it means that while we do not always exactly know what weindividually think is important, we do a pretty good job collectively selecting what isrelevant and/or true. This is done explicitly through systems like Digg and Del.icio.us or35 Surowiecki 2004 28
  30. 30. implicitly by adding specific tags of linking to an article on our own website, so that thealgorithms of Google or Technorati take effect.The reversed order of publishing, then selecting, has pretty large effects on the waycitizens and journalists interact. Because of the huge amounts of data online, some ofwhich is plain false, for a piece of information to prevail as relevant and true is had to beembedded in three ways in a set of external sources that have mutual links with the pieceof information at hand. First, other publications or well-read listing have to point a link toit. In that way the piece gains authority on the basis of other peoples votes. Second, theauthor has to point from the original article (and this goes for both professional andamateur journalists) to other stories that he finds are equally good, in that way activelyembedding his publication in a certain preferred context. Third, he has to point to as muchof his original sources as he can to make his statement as transparent as possible. If he doesnot do it someone else will, since so much information is publicly available.3.3.2 THE ROLE OF INDIVIDUAL EXPERTSAgainst this argument, one could argue: “But is selection and embedding (wherebyproviding context) not one of the main tasks of a journalist?”. I think it indeed is and willalways be that way to a certain extend. Journalists are often better in selecting whichsources are relevant than most of individual people in the population, because they aretrained to do so and have a bigger network. And they are better in providing context,because they usually do not write a single article on a single subject or a single event, butdo research and in doing so they keep tracking the developments in a certain field.However, this does not contradict with any of the above for two reasons. First of all, thesejournalists can find helpful allies in the relatively small group of people (but large inabsolute numbers!) that have expert knowledge or have done thorough research. Second,as argued before, the ‘wisdom of crowds’ principle applies to choosing from a set ofalternatives, not providing the alternatives. We still need intelligent, educated andconcerned journalists and citizens to do research, collect data and write stories. Butcollectively, we the people are pretty good at selecting from already published content.Professional journalists as well as citizen journalists can use data, footage or articles fromother journalist or citizen sources when conducting research. In fact, they always do. So inselecting what is true and relevant, journalists and citizens should also be able to tap into 29
  31. 31. the intelligence of the online collective. Even when the original author of the publicationhas done his selection and has given a piece of information his context, it is to theindividual reader or the collective of readers to choose from a set of selections andcontexts, provided by a number of journalists as well as citizen sources. The flow ofinformation has become transparent and as a result our ways of selecting from the pool ofinformation have changed.3.3.3 CONCEPTUAL TENSIONS: AUTHORITY AND TRANSPARENCYPeople doubt what journalists say. Not because the journalism conducted by traditionaljournalists is bad. Most of the traditional journalists do a pretty good and sometimes evenoutstanding job, aside from a few media scandals, which I will address in the nextparagraph. People doubt because they can select from a set of alternatives and in that waygain insight into the bias of any individual journalist. So a journalist, if he wants to prove apoint, has become dependent of the former audience to gain credibility. The faith of hisstory is in the hands of later users of that story, an important point I will thoroughly addressin chapters five and six. A piece of journalistic information is no longer regarded as true orrelevant just because it is published by a certain journalist with authority or in a certainnewspaper or magazine with authority, but the crowd (aided by technology) forcesjournalism has become transparent, notwithstanding journalists who want to keep anelitist position or individuals who want to believe in media fairytales. This tension,between the concepts of authority and transparency, will form the second conceptualinvestigation at the end of this thesis.3.4 COMMENTING ON THE NEWSThe last level, on which a citizen can be involved in journalism, is as commentator on thenews. This conversation should be interpreted both very concrete and in a more abstractway. On the surface, it looks as though the possibility to comment on journalistic outingshas always been there. One could write a letter to the editor, send in an essay on theopinion page of a newspaper, call a radio station while they are broadcasting or simplyreact by no longer buying the newspaper or magazine and no longer viewing or listeningto a certain program. In a web 2.0 environment, these possibilities just find theirtechnically more advanced counterparts but are essentially nothing new. 30
  32. 32. 3.4.1 JOURNALISM AS A CONVERSATIONGillmor describes five new ways in which this traditional conversation can take place. Firstof all, reporters can put their email address at the end of their stories, so the audience canrespond. Second, media organizations can start online forums and mailing lists on whichthe staff itself is also part of the discussion. Third, editors can assemble and publish the bestcomments posted by readers while supplying context. Fourth, journalists can engage inlive chats with their audience. And fifth, journalists can write their own weblog on which adialogue can take place 36 .It are however not just these superficial outings of a conversation that are of mainimportance here. What really counts is the fact that because of the inherent openness ofthe new media, the audience demands a dialogue, whether the traditional media suppliesthe possibilities or not. If they do, you can come in contact with the author of the originalpiece and improve the quality of his work with your own input or comments. This way thetraditional journalist, or whoever the writer of the original piece is, can put the knowledgeand intelligence that exists among individuals in the crowd to good use. The larger thereacting crowd becomes, the higher the chances are that someone will provide a valuablereaction. From there, the original author can decide to use the comments to furtherenhance his own work. For example Pop Up, the book by Blanken and Deuze and We TheMedia by Dan Gillmor, both mentioned before, started out as an online open sourceenterprise, where the draft version was made public and the audience was invited toparticipate in writing the final version.If the traditional media do nevertheless not provide an official channel through which youcan react, you can still express your thoughts. If you cannot react on a journalist’s weblog,you react on your own. If you think that a piece of investigative journalism is incorrect, youjust gather your own facts through online sources and compose your own story. If you thinkthe media have set the wrong agenda, you don’t call; you set your own agenda. If you thinkcertain voices are missing from the dialogue, you add them. The big change is this:commenting on the news can be done outside of mass-media regulated channels, thus36 Gillmor 2004 31
  33. 33. classic mass-media journalists can assert less influence over the content and participants ofthe conversation.It is often said that journalists are the watchdogs of democracy. In this new world order,the public becomes the watchdog of journalism. The act of citizens commenting on thenews has in the past also included the revealing of media scandals. Of the 55 importantrecent media scandals reported by Wikipedia in 2007, 50 happened after 1997 37 . In manyof these, bloggers played a crucial role in discovering forgery, and manipulation38 .3.4.2 CONCEPTUAL TENSIONS: INFORMATION AND CONVERSATIONThe effect of all this, is that the primary task of journalists changes (note that by saying ‘task’we explicitly do not mean the goals and values of journalism as defined in paragraph 3.1).Journalism changes from gathering the facts and unilaterally providing a democracy withinformation, to shaping the conversation. And the journalist must accept his changing rolefrom a teacher to a forum leader 39 . When done right, the possibilities are endless and havea certain utopian quality to them for people who believe in democracy by an informedcitizenry. True conversations can start, not only between writers and readers, but alsobetween journalists and citizens as both writers and readers at the same level. It isimportant to understand the difference: journalists must not only start a dialogue withsociety. In this way of seeing the conversation, things still revolve too much around theprofessional journalist. A true dialogue exists when journalists participate in the dialoguethat society, of which they are a part, has with itself. This conceptual tension, between thecommunication models of information and conversation, is the base for the third and lastconceptual investigation in the coming chapters.37 Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Purported_United_States_journalism_scandals38 Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Journalistic_scandal39 Gillmor 2004 32
  34. 34. 4. JOURNALISM IN ACTIONIn the previous two chapters, I have set the stage for a conceptual analysis of participatoryjournalism and the shifting roles of amateur journalists, professional journalists and otherswho are using the writeable web for the dissemination of journalistic information in thebroadest sense. This has left us with a fairly flat and dry picture of participatory journalism.Although I have described some of the developments of and touched upon some of theissues arising in participatory journalism, I have not yet discussed in detail any of theconcepts involved (objectivity, authenticity, authority, transparency, information andconversation). Nor have I lightened the stage with abstract notions that might furtherclarify the subject matter. In this chapter I will do just that.I will describe what participatory journalism is and how it functions, using Bruno Latour’s‘In Action’-paradigm40 . Latour, a contemporary French philosopher, developed and usedthis paradigm to build a radical new philosophy of science. In this and the followingchapter I will use some of his concepts to build a philosophy of participatory journalism.In the following paragraph I will provide a brief outline of the ‘In Action’-paradigm andsome of the concepts that it constitutes: the concepts of controversy and collective and thedistinctions between science in action and ready-made science and between the model ofdiffusion and the model of translation. Also, I will explain why I think this paradigm is nowapplicable to journalism and not just to science.4.1 LATOUR’S PHILOSOPHY OF SCIENCEIn 1987 the French philosopher Bruno Latour published his major work, called Science inAction. The main argument of this book is the following: there are two distinctive,consecutive stages in the development of scientific knowledge, which need differentphilosophical treatment. First there is the phase of producing the facts and machines ofscience, called science in action. The outcome of this process is then called ready-madescience: the facts and machines of science themselves, accepted as such and usable in ourdaily life, in our speech, and in our subsequent research.40 Latour 1987 33
  35. 35. When we usually talk of scientific knowledge, we tend to talk about ready-made science.These are the facts of science one reads in textbooks; statements about the world thathave been accepted as being uncontroversial. Examples of these are: “throughphotosynthesis, trees transform carbon-dioxide into oxygen”, “the earth is round andrevolves around the sun” and “the structure of DNA is a double helix”. Technologies we useon a more or less daily basis, which have established their function over and over again, likecomputers, maps, camera’s etc. can also be called ready-made science. These facts are blackboxes: sets of statements and technologies, so very much entangled that we do not botheropening them up. Latour explains these black boxes as follows: “No matter howcontroversial their history, how complex their inner workings, how large the commercial oracademic networks that hold them in place, only their input and output count”41 .But this ready-made science is as said just the (current) end result of research. The point ofclosure, of black-boxing the facts, is preceded in time by the phase of science in action.Every fact of science starts out as a claim, its factuality eventually being a consequence ofscientific action. It is thus possible to trace back every fact and artefact (something that hasproven not to be a fact) of science to a time and place when the fact was still acontroversial claim. We then speak of science in the making, instead of scientificknowledge. From there, one can examine how the initial claim was eventually transformedinto a scientific fact or not. Also one can analyze claims that are still uncertain at themoment. We are entering this stage in the development of scientific knowledge when, forexample, we talk about finding a cure for aids and cancer, fighting global warming,building smaller and faster computers or investigating ‘new’ elementary particles.Science in action can be characterized as the activity in which a fact-builder mobilizes42many different actors to reaffirm his initial claims. The fact-builder is in this sense thescientist, or any other person who wishes to make a scientific claim. The actors can behuman, like colleagues and other supporters who give weight to a claim, other scientistswho cite the claim in later scientific publications or people that use the fact or machine intheir scientific research or day-to-day business. They can also be non-human, such as other41 Ibdem p. 342 Latour sometimes speaks of “enrolling” instead of “mobilizing”. For improved consistency, I will usethe term “mobilizing”, except when explicitly quoting Latour. 34
  36. 36. facts and theories, equipment, and machines. Eventually, we call a claim ‘a fact’ when it hasbeen reaffirmed by such a large number of actors on such a large number of occasions, thatits existence as such becomes accepted. The fact-builder has succeeded in embedding hisclaim in a network of associations, or what Latour calls a collective.When a previously accepted fact or an artefact of science is explicitly up for debate, orwhen two contradicting views exist on a certain scientific topic, we speak of a scientificcontroversy. For instance, the cause of global warming could be said to be a controversialtopic. A controversy also occurs when scientific claims fail to reaffirm their quality inconjuncture with other black boxes or new scientific knowledge under construction, forexample when new technology leads us to believe that the cause of a certain disease isgenetic in stead of bacterial. And this is the stage we are thrown back into, when, forexample, we are dealing with a space shuttle (a former black box) that suddenly explodesin space. This once uncontroversial technology becomes a controversial topic, as the fact ‘aspace shuttle is a safe method of transportation’ is turned into nothing more than a claimfrom a few engineers; the dead astronauts claim otherwise.When a controversy is settled, the facts seem to have always been unproblematic anduncontroversial. It looks as though nature itself prompted the settlement, and as thoughthe facts have always been out there, corresponding to a certain state-of-affairs in reality.This is how the philosophers of science of the past (before Latour) have always looked atscientific knowledge. One has to realize though, that while the controversy is stillunsettled or the claims are still problematic, the facts of Nature are not just out therewaiting to be discovered. The facts of Nature are the outcome of settling a controversy. Soit is in the settlement of controversies, that we not only shape our views of nature andsociety, but also shape the facts of nature and society itself.In view of the above, we can never look strictly at the outside world alone to see if astatement is a fact. Both Nature and the methods of testing and interpreting it areconsequences of the settlement of controversies. Consider this example: if you want toknow something about a far away galaxy, you use a telescope. Based on what you seethrough the telescope, you develop a theory about the galaxy you are investigating. But,since you need the telescope to be able to see the galaxy, does what you see tell you 35
  37. 37. something about the properties of the galaxy or the properties of the telescope? In otherwords, the means of testing and interpreting facts (the telescope) have been developedsimultaneously with the development of the fact (the properties of the galaxy) itself. Ofcourse there is a real galaxy out there; it is not a man-made fantasy. But its properties arenot just there, waiting for us to discover them. They are a result of the acceptance of acertain arrangement of scientists, telescopes, publications and other allies needed toinvestigate these properties.Should both the facts and the instruments prove to be useful on many more separate anddiverse occasions, their factuality slowly increases. If the galaxy looks the same through adifferent telescope, if its properties help explaining other cosmic events and if thetelescope proves to be a useful tool in investigating other galaxies, claims about both thetelescope and the galaxy gain strength. Eventually they might become black boxes, butthis is established only through later uses of these facts and means of testing.Latour argues that a theory of science and thus a theory that has some degree ofcorrespondence to the way science empirically works, must be focused on how a scientificclaim becomes a usable fact or object in the process of settling the controversy: “Theimpossible task of opening the black box is made feasible (if not easy) by moving in time andspace until one finds the controversial topic on which scientists and engineers are busy atwork. […] our entry into science and technology will be trough the back door of science in themaking, not through the more grandiose entrance of ready-made science” 43 .In order to develop a theory of science, one should analyze current controversies andrealize that every scientific fact was once a controversy. From there, when one haspermitted and equipped oneself to do so, one can start to look at the people and thingsthat were involved in settling the controversy and the different roles that they played inrelation to one another. As Latour writes in his “first principle”, which will prove to be animportant asset to my theory of collective journalism: “The fate of facts and machines is inlater users’ hands; their qualities are thus a consequence, not a cause, of a collective action” 44 .43 Latour 1987: 444 Ibdem p. 259 36
  38. 38. 4.2 FROM SCIENCE TO JOURNALISMThere are striking parallels between some of the issues mentioned in Latour’s theory andsome of the problems we have encountered earlier in this thesis. These parallels,explained below, lead us to think that by looking at journalism in the way that Latour looksat science and picking up some of the concepts involved, we will gain a betterunderstanding of participatory journalism in the same way Latour himself gained a betterunderstanding of science.We live in a rapidly changing society, in which both social and technical arrangements arebeing altered in various ways with far reaching consequences, as I described in chapters 2and 3. We should, however, not separate the social from the technological, since thetechnologies which form our means of disentangling, explaining and mobilizing the worldaround us inherently shape what can be called Society and Nature; our view of the worldand the way we live in it. We exert influence on all the non-human objects in the world, bydeveloping them, putting them to use and providing them with relevance and agency,while at the same time these objects exert influence on us by enabling and constrainingour actions. In this line of thinking, technologies are actors in themselves. Therefore thereis no dualism in which we have society on one hand and technology on the other. In stead,society is made up of both human and non-human actors, which in their interaction definefor themselves and each other what ‘society’ is.Journalists, who have to deal with all these changes, are themselves part of that society.That means that it is useless to put journalists on a proverbial island, separate thejournalistic from the social, and then try to build a bridge between the island of thejournalists and the mainland of society. Instead we have to accept that there are mutualinterests between society and journalism as part of that society, and then study theirmutual influence. The journalist is as much part of the society whose events he tries toreport and explain, as the scientist is part of the world whose scientific laws he or she triesto uncover.Therefore, we have to examine a changing society, changing technologies and changingjournalism together, as one coherent changing landscape. Make use of Latour, the bestway of doing so is to look at the ways in which journalistic controversies get settled in this 37
  39. 39. changing world. Because the settlement of controversies, journalistic and scientific,depends on both the people and the things that are made part of the controversy, wecannot but conclude that when we agree on the existence of changing technologies,changing journalistic techniques and changing journalistic actors, we have to accept newways of settling journalistic controversies and thus a changing Journalism. Consequently,since an established news fact is only the outcome of settling a controversy, a differentJournalism produces different news.Consider the following example, in analogy to the previous example of the galaxy and thetelescope. Most of our political ‘galaxy’ is visible only through ‘telescopes’ like pressconferences, official statements, regulated interviews, political journalists and the like.Almost all political news-facts are the result of the acceptance of the fact that theseinstruments and actors are able to provide us with useful news-facts. These instrumentslegitimize the facts and, in turn, these instruments are legitimized by the amount of factsthey produce.Sometimes though, we are suddenly confronted with contradictory claims about ourpolitical reality. This happened, for instance, when a video showed up on Youtube in whichUS senator George Allen called an Afro-American campaign volunteer a ‘macaca’45 . Theclaim ‘George Allen is a racist’, which was the result of the appearance of the video onYoutube, directly contradicted the claim ‘George Allen is a decent guy’, which was theresult of the carefully orchestrated journalistic arrangement through which weencountered George Allen before.The public gained insight into the properties of George Allen through new channels, as aresult of which their knowledge of his properties changed from him being decent, to himbeing a racist. Because this showed us that the traditional journalistic arrangement lackedthe instruments to produce certain facts (‘George Allen is a racist’), we had a reason toreconsider the instruments of the traditional journalistic arrangement causing orknowledge of both the ‘galaxy’ and the ‘telescope’ to change at the same time.45 Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r90z0PMnKwIpublished on August 15, 2006 38
  40. 40. 5. SETTLING JOURNALISTIC CONTROVERSIESIf one accepts that new technologies, and new relations between professionals andamateurs provide us with new means of settling controversies and thus new means ofconduction journalism, one has to dive deeply into this process before redefining thefoundations it rests upon. This is what I did in the first part of this thesis. I looked at the newtechnical arrangements that make a new journalism possible (chapter 2) and I looked atthe new social arrangements in which this new journalism takes place (chapter 3). Then, inthe previous chapter, I described a theory that can serve as a guideline in redefining thefoundations of journalism. To do so, I will first examine 3 of Latour’s main concepts as theyrelate to journalism. In the concluding chapter of this thesis I can then try to solve theconceptual tensions, described in chapter 3.In paragraph 5.1 I will examine Latour’s concept of controversy in relation to journalism. Iwill first argue that controversial issues in journalism can be analyzed in the same fashionas controversial issues in science; an enterprise that is in and of itself different fromanalyzing well-established facts. Furthermore, I will argue that since citizens are gettinginvolved in journalism, the fundamental fact that journalism deals with controversiesbecomes more manifest. In paragraph 5.2 I will look at Latour’s model of translation and itscontrast with the model of diffusion. I will argue that adapting Latour’s concept oftranslation, and therefore taking a different perspective on the way the news is brought tothe public, would solve a lot of the mutual mistrust between journalists and citizens. Inparagraph 5.3, I will look at Latour’s concept of the collective, and the specific notion offactbuilding he derived from it. I will argue that adapting this notion results in a theory ofcollective production of knowledge that can help to adequately evaluate the role ofcitizens in journalism. Furthermore, from this new theory additionally arises a possibility toput the intrinsic link structure of the web to greater use.5.1 JOURNALISM AS SETTLING JOURNALISTIC CONTROVERSIESThe process of journalism resembles the development of scientific knowledge. The typesof actors that have to be mobilized to turn a scientific claim into a fact do not differ verymuch from the types of actors involved in doing so for journalistic claims. Journalists, likescientists, have to do research in which they mobilize both human and non-human actors.It is possible for a journalist to use black-boxed information (i.e. referring to previously 39
  41. 41. published facts) or technology (i.e. a photo camera) to establish his claim more firmly, likeit is possible for scientists to build on black-boxed theory or use scientific machinery (i.e. atelescope). Also both in science and journalism, people judge and comment on eachother’s work as a system of peer review. In short, the activity of journalism is, just likescience, about settling controversies, and the ways of doing so are alike. Like in science, ajournalistic fact is not a fact until it has been reaffirmed by a multitude of actors and ajournalistic artefact is not an artefact until someone else has mobilized a stronger set ofactors that seem to reaffirm a contradictory claim.5.1.1 WHAT ARE JOURNALISTIC CONTROVERSIES?Just like science, journalism also potentially produces ‘ready-made’ facts. These are thefacts that are the end result of a journalistic endeavor and eventually turn up in historicaltextbooks. These are the facts that can be quoted or mobilized by another journalist, inanother place, at another point in time to build new claims upon. Yet in science it is easierthan in journalism to be distracted by the uncontroversial facts and the texts that expressthem, as was the case with many philosophers of science from the past according to Latour.For most people, when they learn about the settlement of a scientific controversy, thescientific activity is something that has happened in the past. Only the end results ofresearch, the black boxes of ready-made science, are being used by people every day, orbeing taught at school. Scientists successfully engage themselves in the business ofsettling controversies, of building facts and machines, one could say. Many people use acalculator, a certain medicine or the laws of gravity without ever questioning theiruncontroversial nature. So apart from a few scientific issues so controversial that we comein contact with them often, either through politics or journalism, such as stem-cellresearch, most people do not deal with science while it is still ‘in action’.Journalism is, in contrast, usually about events that are happening at present or havehappened in the near past. The word ‘news’ has its origins in the word new. “Oh, but that isold news”, is what people say when something is not really current anymore. Mostjournalistic activity the public comes in contact with takes place when the claims areneither yet facts nor artefacts or when the subject matter is controversial. The main reasonfor this is that the process of resolving the controversies does not happen behind the 40

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