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October 4, 2003

On Location Notes at Big Conference on the Weblog Surge

Notes, scenes, and a few puzzles from Day One of Blogger.con, conference of webloggers, journalists, thinkers. Harvard University Law School, Oct. 4-5.

Curry’s Call Back
… So we heard Adam Curry on the basic “dishonesty of television,” which lies in “how television is made,” in the hyped up energy of “every cut, every scene, ever zoom” on MTV and the like. “We’re catching on to that.” (Would have loved to know which “we” that was, catching on.)… Outside on the steps Adam tells a small group about having to fly back to New York, from Europe, to re-tape an entire weekend of shows so that after every mention of Michael Jackson, VJ’s can say the words, “King of Pop,” (this being the price in hype the network was willing to pay to get Jackson to appear on an awards show.)

Death of the Gatekeeper
… Saturday afternoon, Jeff Jarvis actually forecast the death of the gatekeeper, by which I think he meant the gatekeeper model of a professionalized press. Why? Because the Internet, brought to people by cheap and plentiful weblogs, is “the first medium owned by the audience.” Jarvis is an effective radical. What radicalized him? September 11th, he was in New York City and felt it buckle. After, he had a radical need to communicate that could not be met by existing media. Then comes weblog. I think the gatekeeper died in him, and this is what gives his weblog buzz.

Human Nature Doesn’t Blog
… A realist’s note was sounded by Esther Dyson: Don’t get carried away with what the technology can do, or is doing for a few. When social “transformation,” technology-derived, runs up against human nature, nature holds. It isn’t easy to transform people, even if you do remake their information flow. True. And a linguistics professor I know says: People are bad enough without being improved all the time.

Now Appearing: People
… But David Weinberger turned human nature around in responding to Dyson. The weblog as a way of communicating “feels to me like human nature,” he said. The activity of writing (keeping) a weblog lays bare an instinct to connect—a need to speak one’s mind in a public way—that perhaps was always there, part of our nature. Now it is being developed because the software, distribution, and social forms exist… For Hannah Arendt readers, this is the desire to appear in public—to speak and act in the public realm—that modern life stripped away. But the weblog world is a space where many more can appear, in the sense that, say, Walter Shapiro appears in USA Today.

Monoculture Kept Us Down
… Then Dave Winer, conference host, meantioned the depressing effects of the “monoculture” we had grown used to, by which I think he meant the media complex and the world it shapes around us. The monoculture kept a lot of people undeveloped, he said. “Maybe weblogs won’t change human nature; but they might let more of it out.”

For the websites and weblogs of these people, see this page.

Unnatural insert: This is material removed from my first draft of this post, about the second BloggerCon, April 17, 2004.

By April 17, I want to have a list of twenty questions that people have actually thought about beforehand. But they will also be items on the floor at the “What is Journalism?” session. We’ll project them on screen as a common starting point. Between now and then they belong to discussion in Blogistan, like any post, but especially for those coming to the conference or planning to be there in spirit.

I want a list of twenty. I have ten. Your job should be obvious. Please use the comment section at this post. Or you can always email PressThink. What questions need to be added? How should they be framed? What are your nominations, and how would you phrase them if you wanted to extend my list?

After the questions, I offer one link—among the thousands one could supply—to go with the essay, and the questions. Absorb those three things and your homework is complete. Will I call on you? Yeah, I might.

1. Why do we say that weblogs have given the people the power of the printing press?

2. And if that’s true, how does the weblog alter the public’s dependence on “the press” and professional journalists?

3. What really distinguishes journalism as a practice and in what portions of the practice can citizen authors rightly, effectively share?

4. What makes the weblog a potent tool of journalism and what are its potential uses?

5. As a new platform for journalism, what does the World Wide Web offer the practitioner, the practice, the press?

6. What does a Web journalism competently done by citizens actually look like, where do we find it, and where can we imagine it going in the years ahead?

7. What lessons in excellence, competence and public service can the profession of journalism teach to citizens, amateurs, webloggers— and to us at BloggerCon?

8. What does it mean for a weblog with journalism in it, authored by a member of the public, to have a public and to serve a public good?

9. Which goods are worth serving for webloggers doing a kind of journalism?

10. How do we understand the independence of webloggers and their voices if these voices mainly comment (and thus depend) on news and other material originated by the major media? What’s so independent about that?

Posted by Jay Rosen at October 4, 2003 11:09 PM