Interactive Deliberation

Recently, I received an email from a friend who works for the evening news at one of the major networks. I had sent him an email about Epic. He found it interesting and send a great email back. I started writing my response, but as it tied in more and more of what has been going on for me over the past few weeks, it occurred to me that it might be a better blog post. So, please continue reading for a long entry about journalism, politics and technology.

I'm glad you found Epic so interesting. I was very interested in it as well and have been writing more and more on issues of Media. I am on some interesting mailing lists which include some interesting people like Jay Rosen from NYU J-school, members of Havard Law School's Berkman Center for Internet & Society, and Dan Gillmor, author of We the Media which I believe is an important book in thinking about where citizen participation in media is headed.

Through this, I've become especially interested in the issues of ethics in the media. As people struggle with "are bloggers journalists", the issue of blogger ethics has come up. I think this mirrors some of the ethical issues that the mainstream media faces, and I've been very interested to read the Society of Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics and ponder how well different media organizations adhere to this code of ethics. Personally, I'm not sure that many of the mainstream organizations do all that well.

Today, I received an email pointing me to an op-ed piece by Edward Wasserman, Knight professor of journalism ethics at Washington and Lee University.

It covers the old ground of the 'Dean Scream' in terms of journalistic ethics and I thought his thinking, and relating it to the Dan Rather situation was very interesting.

Earlier this week, I completed participation in Online Social Networks 2005, an online symposium about online communities. There was a lot of talk about 'citizen journalism' as well as about the role online communities promoting democracy. Of particular concern was the role of 'gotcha' journalism, both in the blogs and in the traditional media, and how this discourages discourse.

It seems as if so much of the discussions around Jeff Gannon and Eason Jordan are about ‘gotcha’ journalism. The focus is on things that either of them said or did, and not on the important underlying question of how safely, accurately, and independently can journalists get information about what is going on, either in Iraq or in the White House.

In contrast to ‘gotcha’ journalism, we need to be looking at ways to encourage discourse. For me, this is tied back to an underlying theme that I've been very interested in. The blog that I was writing for that resulted in me getting credentials to cover the 2004 Democratic National Convention was Greater Democracy.

One of the things that we talk a lot about at Greater Democracy is 'PostBroadcast' politics. It ties back to a theme in Epic. People are coming to expect more interactivity, in part through the use of the Internet.

People want more interactivity in their politics, which was one of the appeals of the Dean campaign. They want more interactivity in their news coverage, which I think contributes to the rise of blogging.

In politics, this interactive deliberation is taking shape in some very interesting ways. The other day, Kim received an email from our State Representative whom Kim ran against last year. It said, "You and I live Eleanor Roosevelt’s dictum: When competition ends, cooperation begins." Here we see some interactive deliberation.

Recently, I helped a friend set up a forum on a test site of mine to encourage public discussion about resolutions to be brought before the upcoming North Carolina Democratic Party Convention. It has been slowly been building traffic as has another site, Open Gov, where I have been encouraging people to post letters they send to their elected officials, as well as any replies they receive. Yet both of these are promising example of interactive deliberation.

Traditional Broadcast media needs to evolve to become more interactive. Such interaction, done right, promotes discourse and helps democracy in our country.

I touch on this a little bit in a blog entry I wrote in early January about Mairead preferring to get her news from NationStates, again, in part, because of the interactive deliberation.

One of the events that has come up in the past few days is that according to Alexa, a site ranking system where you can compare the traffic of two different sites, Wikipedia surpassed the New York Times in traffic for the first time.

To put it in another way, more people are going to a peer-to-peer source of information than a broadcast source of information. This was brought up in discussions about the New York Times bidding on, in part to boost their presence on the web.

In your email, you wrote, "My prediction for the future is that we will see a full circle. That is, people will embrace media like the Google site, blogs and others but after a time will seek out "pre-digested information" from trusted sources."

I think there is a good chance of this. I think Epic hints at this as a possibility. The question becomes which sources will be trusted and why. Here, again, I return to my daughter's college experience. In college, the professors are trusted sources. They are trusted because of reputation, credentials and being hired to present information. However, that trust, is maintained and enhanced by class discussions and by professors keeping office hours where students can come in and discuss the material in further detail.

Perhaps if the evening news programs hope to remain being trusted sources of pre-digested information, they would do well to actively encourage discussion, both in forums and individually.

I realize this is a very long-winded response to your email, but I do hope that it promotes further thinking and I look forward to chances to discuss it with you.

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Well, here's another anecdote