Game Changers To What Degree

Trying to assess the impact of the Internet on journalism and government is a daunting task.  As Dave Winer noted, we are in the middle of a transformation.  It’s happening all around us, all the time.  Clay Shirky described what I think is the most interesting way to look at the current technological situation and its impact:  We are living in 1500.  No one focused on the transition period after the printing press began to play its role.  I think we are in a similar period with the Internet, but one happening so fast with so many factors its hard to figure out many established patterns of behavior and activity or where it will lead.  Further, those patterns are subject to change when the newest tech advancement gains traction.  The convergence of mediums on the Internet and other devices has led to a whole different dimension of user experience and possibility. The barriers to interacting and sharing, putting information out there from anyone about anything have been lowered.

It was much simpler when the institutions and hierarchy were set up in a such a way that we knew who was responsible for governance or bringing us news and more or less how they went about doing it.  You wanted to be a journalist you went to journalism school.  Sources for consumers were limited.  Now you can be a ‘citizen journalist’ and there is so much content out there that you can get any type of information you want. And, more complicated still, any type of opinion. Eric Alterman’s article has a quote that states it more bluntly: most user content is crap, even if it is all the rage.  The old journalism model we had has changed and will change more, but to what ultimately is anyone’s guess. People can tailor their Internet experience to get only the information they want from sources they want, be it Twitter, the BBC or Google.  I think news and journalism will adapt to the digital age even if it is transformed from its traditional style. I think Shirky and Murdoch and others are right and there will always be need for journalists, but the structures will have to adapt, and the definition of ‘journalism’ will be altered.  How it will be monetized and retain such hallowed aspects as investigative journalism and overseas bureaus is unclear right now. But I think the more troubling aspects lie in how the digital age defines what news will be, where it comes from, and ultimately how people will understand the world around them with so much information vying for their attention through so many channels. As Nick Carr states, more choices don’t mean better choices. The ‘filter bubble’ I think became a problem once you could get news on the Internet, and that was years ago.  The access to different information from different sources was there, but you have to know about them and actively seek them out.  It became easier to do this but not everyone does.  Education about how the news and information industry works is something many people don’t’ have and so don’t take advantage of what is available.  This is even more complex with personalization combined with content increasingly coming from so many areas and delivered by multiple devices and channels.  On balance, people may not be better informed any more than they were when there was nothing but 3 TV networks and the local newspaper.

Government could definitely reap the benefits of new technology, from diplomacy to governance.  But this is a different animal entirely and I think will take much longer to find best practices, not to mention change the institutions themselves.  Clear goals need to be established.  While the groundswell effect can help for things like fixing a road, the motivations for getting involved in government are different than something like Wikipedia, or publishing an article like Breslin did for free.  Satisfaction and sense of accomplishment are part of it but some kind of wiki model for lawmaking could just as easily be subject to partisan rancor as it is now.  The Internet is already helping to put some government services at people’s fingertips, enabling activism, and can help create a dialogue as we have seen in the readings.  But even the most savvy new media strategy, whether it is campaigning or running a government has to have a strong off line component.  This is the case whether in Brazil or here.  The Obama campaign was a great test case where you can look back and see how the whole thing worked.  For government, the changes will be incremental and experimental.   The real question I have is if it will make the government smaller and reduce its cost.  I think it will, but the transformation we are now experiencing will take time despite the speed of the digital age.

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