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December 7, 2004

What is the Internet Doing to Political Journalism and its Public?

"Participants: about 20-50 informed people, interested in politics and technology, most of them wired to the Net, spread out in a law school classroom that has what is called in the theatre a 'high rake,' trying to figure it out."

I will be hosting a session at the Berkman Center’s upcoming conference, (Votes, Bits & Bytes, Dec. 9-11 at Harvard University), which is shaping up as a massively interesting event for me, and others with an interest in what the Internet is doing to our political system. The conference (400 pre-registrants) is organized around four questions. The two most vital are:

Has “citizenship” really changed in the online era?

Did the web, in fact, affect the 2004 election?

Two days of keynotes and panels. Hossein Derakhshan, known as Hoder, the Iranian blogger who now lives in Canada, Joe Trippi of MSNBC and the Dean Campaign, Scott Michael Turk, eCampaign Director for Bush-Cheney ‘04, Scott Heiferman, head of, Craig Newmark of Craig’s List, Esther Dyson, the tech writer and PC Forum creator, Josh Ross, Director of Internet Strategy for Kerry-Edwards 2004 are just some of them. (Schedule.) Jeff Jarvis, Dan Gillmor, Dave Weinberger will be there, among others who blog, and there’s an international track— a vital addition. (The conference is free, by the way.)

My portion is on the third day, Saturday, when the “non-traditional” style takes over. No experts, everyone’s on the panel. One person runs the discussion by interrogating the room. It’s the BloggerCon format, a more “open” style. (Semi-Socratic, a friend of mine calls it.) The Berkman Center debuted it when Dave Winer opened BloggerCon I in Pound Hall at Harvard Law School. So I’m the interrogator for one of these things. It’s among the final sessions— a wrap-up for those who remain.

Participants: about 20-50 well informed people, interested in politics and technology, most of them wired to the Net, spread out in a law school classroom (it has what is called in the theatre a “high rake”)— all trying to figure it out. Here’s the description:

Saturday, Dec. 11, 4 5:30pm, Pound 100
What is the Internet doing to political journalism and its public?

The Internet changes the flow in political journalism by giving users way more of it. The Net stimulates writerly invention, which wasn’t a strong point of the traditional press. It creates new competitors, bloggers among them. It allows for more re-writing and checking of the news— more intense criticism. And the Net is luring more and more respectable journalists to the Net. But so what? Does any of that change politics? Does it re-distribute power? Does it make the American people a more informed public? And why does political reporting need to be “interactive,” anyhow? We’ll discuss what’s different about the political press when it is open to more people. This happened in 2004 because of the Internet. Yet the Net is only part of the story. Market forces, political pressures, generational flight, loss of legitimacy, loss of access, confusion in the ranks about where to go from here (and don’t forget inertia)— they happened too. No speakers, no panel, no experts, no guru, but I have a method or two, and I’ve done this before. If you show up don’t be surprised if I ask you tell me a story.

John Palfrey, Executive Director at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, has written to session leaders with a sensible plea: The conference is supposed to be a “skeptical take on the impact of the internet on politics.” We’re supposed to help keep things honest.

“We want to ask hard questions that get past the hype and to what’s real in this story — if anything,” Palfrey wrote. “We are interested, to the greatest extent we can, in uncovering, together, the truth about whether the internet really is changing politics, not just in the US but around the world, for the better.”

What do you think?

UPDATE, Dec. 11: After two days of conferencing, I have a sense of some of the questions that lie inside the main one: What is the Internet doing to political journalism and its public? This includes:

Posted by Jay Rosen at December 7, 2004 1:34 AM