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The Future of Journalism: a conversation

With colleagues Pete Lewis, Tony Deifell, Kevin Anderson, Andrew Haeg, and Scott Rosenberg, I’m in a two week conversation about the future of journalism on the WELL. The WELL is the seminal online community; this conversation is in the Inkwell forums, where Bruce Sterling and I have our annual state of the world conversation. Inkwell usually has conversations with authors, but for this conversation we’re trying a panel format.

Here’s my latest contribution to the conversation:

Most of us who studied to be journalists were taught consistent bits about how to structure and tell a story. We learned about inverted pyramids and who-what-when-where-how, about the problem of burying the lede, about economy of writing, and about an ethic that pertains to the profession. So we share something that might feed into our world view, but then we’re shaped by all sorts of other experiences that can take us down this or that rabbit hole.

I personally had a mission to find and tell the truth, and felt that the practice of journalism didn’t cut it. I left ostensibly to create literature, and found myself doing all sorts of things that didn’t always include writing.

Back then, I wouldn’t have known the truth if it bit me on the ass, but I thought it was important. Today I have a more nuanced view; I don’t expect the truth from journalism. I expect a perspective which, when combined with other perspectives, will help me build a world view. And that will be my perspecive… and there may be glimpses of something like the “truth” I was looking for 40 years ago. But I’m lucky if I can be merely accurate.

Over years of being close to many stories covered by journalists, I never saw one account that fit what I thought I had seen myself. There were errors, misrepresentations, misinterpretations. A reporter who has limited time and access likely won’t get a story exactly right. What I like about the web is that it facilitates the public exposure of many perspectives, and through that exposure you can hope to get a sense what’s happening in the world.

In putting together talks about media and the Internet, I’ve given a lot of thought to the evolution of communication. For most of us, our expectations of media are conditioned by a deeply rooted experience of mass media as we were growing up. For us, journalism was few to many – channels were scarce and could carry only a few writers and perspectives.

Before mass media, I think we were more intimately conversational and knew far less of the world. Post-broadcast, in the Internet era, we’re conversational again, but we also have an abundance of channels and information. This is pretty new, and I’m not clear where it’s going, but (to the point about Daily) I don’t think we’re going back.

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