How the Web Reaffirms Journalism as "an Activity"

A fascinating exchange about the future of journalism has been unfolding online.

Jeff Jarvis of BuzzMachine wrote a superb article (Product v. process journalism: The myth of perfection v. beta culture) defending online citizen journalism from its critics in the more elitist wing of the traditional media. One of his colleagues, Charles Arthur, weighed in on the topic as well (David v Goliath in the newsroom, and why we need new wrappers for journalism), prompting another response from Jarvis (David, meet Goliath).

Of particular interest to me in the Jarvis/Arthur dialog is the illuminating concept that transparency is really the major feature that differentiates a story that the New York Times publishes versus a story published via a blog post. There’s also an artificial “definitive” quality in the traditional media that is exposed as false by web-based journalism (that is to say, information isn’t neatly disclosed in sequence and as a result it isn’t always possible to make a final judgment about the facts).

This is why I bristle at criticism of Wikipedia. I much prefer its transparent editing process to the opaque process used by traditional encyclopedia producers. I also like that it doesn’t make judgments (driven by profitability) about what merits inclusion and what does not – every obscure detail can be cataloged online. It’s also vastly more current at any given moment than any encyclopedia based simply on the length of time it takes to produce a printed work.

This dialog has reaffirmed my optimism that the web may be able to help fill the void being left by the decline of the “mainstream media.” It also comes at an opportune time as the “Neighborhood News Bureaus” project here in Grand Rapids is beginning to really take shape (the project now even has a name: “The Rapidian“).

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