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The editors of ourselves

Posted in OpenThoughts, datajournalism

Some thoughts journalism’s crisis and information flows

You can read this article in Italian on my Medium, here

A couple of days ago, I was watching a conference held at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society, in which Susan Crowford interwied former FCC’s Chair Tom Wheeler.

During Q&A (around 53:00) he said something that summed up perfectly some thoughts I have been having in my mind for quite some time:

We need to begin to become our own editors, where we used to outsource the editorial function to NBC or CBS or the NYT. And now anybody with web access has as much reach as any of those, and it’s gonna force consumers to be better consumers of information. And I think we’ll get there, but we are certainly going through a rough path right now.”

I reckon this is profoundly true, and entails a whole set of things that are rooting some of the problems we have right now.

A bit of background story.

Journalism is in a deep crisis. Better: newspapers are in a deep crisis and consequently part of journalism is. Basically the web and its zero marginal cost of creating information broke the business model of traditional newspapers, which don’t know how to make money in a world of free information. Money from advertising is declining, and there isn’t any working model except from billionaires funding them. I am obviously generalizing.

There’s a whole literature about the economic, social and political consequences of this phenomenon that you can find. And it is profoundly entangled with the fashionable debate about fake news, and the so called ‘post-truth era’, a misleading concept that is exploited to point (often dirty) fingers to the Web and the people (adding that in Italy this debate on an embarassing level, but that’s another post).

To keep it simple, this business model crisis lead to a fundamental change on how we acquire our information (or the other way around, since it’s now a loop), and the quality of it.

In this liquid, noisy, rapidly-changing society we live in, true journalism (and I am not meaning traditional newspapers) appears to have lost its grip on shaping the public opinion, leaving this space empty.

There’s no conservatism in my words, no good taste for a past time, no ‘how beautiful traditional newspapers were’. I didn’t grow up in that world and I am don’t believe public opinion is more or less informed then it was thirty years ago.

The fact is that, to go back to Mr Wheeler’s words, we have to fulfill this empty space.

What does an editor do? Bottom-line: decides what information is important and what isn’t. Verifies sources, tries to compose the puzzle. Tries always to have a critical voice towards the reality in front of him/her.

In this complicated world, where the information produced is so enormous and confused, we cannot afford to leave our flows of information uncured. We cannot afford to outsource this role to social networks, with their opaque algorithms and their filter bubbles. We cannot avoid our responsibility to ourselves underestimating the issue.

We have a staple importance in this whole process and we have to recognize that to educate society about its role, means to educate ourselves to be our own editors. In these weird times more then ever. It is possible. We have the technology (I manage my flows mainly with RSS feeds, don’t be frightened, they’re really simple to use).

There’s no straight-line method, and a short post obviously over-simplifies. But it’s a matter of equilibriums, and if we’re really trying to find them. The question we gotta try to ask to ourselves everyday is: how do I form my opinions? Am I choosing to get this information? If not, who or what is choosing for me? And what am I missing? Who wrote this? Why? Are there sources, data? Do I change my opinions based on the data?

I know, it’s tiring, but the results might clear our minds.

The internet is the most incredible infrastracture ever built. Human beings learn through dialogues. Open sourcing your ideas means enhancing them. I keep my brain alive reading, writing and coding. Economics student, I'm (slowly) teaching myself Data Science. Hacktivism with www.onData.it folks.

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