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Hypergene MediaBlog » Not allowing conversations is immoral
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Not allowing conversations is immoral

Thankfully, Nat Torkington has posted his notes from Clay Shiky’s talk at ETech yesterday.

Clay echoed some earlier ideas and added some great new insights. One line especially caught our eye:


(Jean-Jacques) Rousseau wrote later that might is not right. Leader must support subjects, and subjects have right to agitate against leader if they’re not being well served.

This is the direction that the conversation around social software is taking. (Thomas) Hobbes would say that Dave (Winer) had the right and all was good. Rousseau would reply, “no he didn’t, software systems that don’t allow the users to fight back are immoral.”

We are literally encoding the principles of freedom of speech and freedom of expression in our tools. We need to have conversations about the explicit goals of what it is that we’re supporting and what we are trying to do, because that conversation matters… But we also need to get it right in the long term because society needs us to get it right.

It sounds like an ethic that hits the bullseye for a news site. Yet, in recent years, many major news sites have been reluctant to incorporate comments or message boards. Some, like CNN, have removed them altogether.

Trying to actively engage an audience into conversations should be a primary goal for news organizations. It’s what a democracy needs and what news organizations are meant to support.

Newsvine has put conversations and user-contributed content at the center of its news experience. It hasn’t been without a few problems, but that’s OK. We’re all experimenting here trying to figure out what works.

The reality is that social applications will always tend to be messy and chaotic because they’re, well, social.

Posted on Mar 09, 2006 | 5:55 pm EST

READER COMMENTS


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I wanted to comment on the following paragraph:
“Trying to actively engage an audience into conversations should be a primary goal for news organizations. It’s what a democracy needs and what news organizations are meant to support.”

It would be an interesting article in itself to discuss the large news organizations’ wanting their cake and eating it too.

On the one hand, freedom of the press is a tenet of democracy with the supposition that the freedom is to report on anything in any way we want, and that keeps the membrane between the establishment and the populace transparently thin. On the other hand, only by extension do we attribute the underlying morality to those who supposedly represent the press operating with those freedoms.  We may be assuming that news organizations are meant to support democracy’s need to know because, in fact, a news organization is a business that capitalizes on that need.

At first, I did not think that “trying to actively engage an audience into conversations should be a primary goal for news organizations." My thinking was the “should” for news organizations is to report.  But then I thought: they have to get their information from some place, so they send out reporters (humans), who then throw together an article to enlighten us on what they’re reporting on. The two main points are that they gather information through people and then present a report.

I parsed those two things this way:

1) Given a definition of ‘conversation’ as “the use of speech for informal exchange of views or ideas or information etc,” it makes sense that news organizations would involve the public as a valid way to gather information.  Exchanging ideas/information can be gathering.

2) There is no such thing as objective reporting of data (information) because the presentation assumes a perspective. Period. Arrangement of data assumes a structure that is based on something to be decoded and interpreted. Just ask Tufte. And it gets worse in reporting a story because of the inferences that are made, even subliminally to the writer, when the writer places one event in juxtaposition to another to suggest a thread in a story. Once again, it makes sense to involve the public to question the assumptions behind inherent conclusions or suggestions contained in the report’s perspective and to round out the perspectives more fairly.  I suspect a ratio of some type here: the wider the array of perspectives, the more objective a story can become (with truth-filtering rules, of course).

Anyway, my final conclusion was that you are right to say engaging an audience into conversation should be a news organization’s goal. Otherwise, every publication by a news agency should contain the explicit caveat that what they are “reporting” is more or less informed opinion, coming from the publication’s perspective.

The cake is wanting to represent the freedom to report and support democracy’s need to know; eating it too is keeping it all to themselves by resisting validation of the illusion of transparency.

Posted by: Ron Biggs on Mar 27, 06 | 4:36 pm EST

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