New and Mainstream Journalists Face Off at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center
|November 14, 2011||Posted by Anharris under Journalism, New Media|
I recently had the great pleasure of attending the 25th anniversary celebration of Harvard’s Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy–at which such traditional journalists as Marvin Kalb (NBC News), Ken Auletta (The New Yorker) Miles O’Brien (PBS NewsHour) and David Carr (The New York Times) mixed it up with new media experts Xeni Jardin ( Boing Boing) Steve Grove (YouTube) and Joichi Ito (MIT Media Lab) among other new media experts.
Central to much of the discussion was how new technologies can co-exist with, include or enhance traditional journalistic values–such as the search for truth, validation of information–instead of disseminating tweets and half-baked ideas willy nilly.
Several speakers argued that “crowd-editing,” on such sources as Wikipedia, is perhaps MORE responsible than traditional editing. One participant suggested in the future, with multiple citizen contributors to news sites, editors will likely take the role of informed curators. Others objected that it’s important to have objective editors in order to preclude vetting by individuals who have vested interests in their topics.
Keynoter Clay Shirkey placed current concerns about Wikileaks and “privileged” information into broad historical context–going back to the 1500s–when the Catholic Church attempted, unsuccessfully, to halt the production and sale of bibles in languages other than Latin. After the Treaty of Westphalia, national boundaries were strengthened and, in many cases, printing could be regulated by individual countries. But, today, the Internet crosses national boundaries–and there is, he said, no legal model for dealing with leaks by citizens of foreign nations. In fact, he said, “why would anyone leak within his or her own country, where he could be held accountable by press laws, there?”
Shirkey also pointed out the dangers of dismissing the free press rights of non-traditional journalists, tweeters, bloggers and the like–suggesting that treating them differently from mainstream press could threaten the free speech of everyone, including major media. He outlined several such threats among democratic US allies:
- In South Africa, a proposed press tribunal would, if enacted, give the government the right to oversee the interaction of all of the press operating in South Africa, regardless of whether the outlets were incorporated locally or globally.
- South Korea, after protests that shook Lee Myung-bak’s government in 2008, has enacted a “real names” law in which a South Korean citizen wanting simply to comment on a video on a site with 10,000 or more users must register on the site in a way that is directly accessible to the government.
- Italy is currently debating a law under which anyone who dislikes something written about him/her online has the right to demand that that the online site publish in full a reply, unredacted and uncommented on, within 48 hours or be fined 12,000 Euros–regardless of whether the offending material is accurate or a form of political speech.
In light of the above, Shirkey strongly recommended that the traditional media in the US stand firm for free speech rights of all.
Jim VandeHei, executive editor and co-founder of Politico, formerly of the Washington Post, pointed out that many of Politico’s 200 journalists hail from traditional print media–and that he’s not interested in debating whether tweeters, bloggers and the like are really journalists or how new technologies affect news. “People are doing this [tweeting, blogging, sharing]; it’s my job to figure out how people are accessing the news and get it to them, whether it’s in print, broadcast, or online,” he said.
Anne Marie Slaughter, the Bert G. Kerstetter ’66 University Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University, served from 2009–2011 as Director of Policy Planning for the United States Department of State. In both positions, she said, she has relied on Twitter for much information –rather than on publications such as the New York Times. Tweets tell her what’s going on in real time–and also what she needs to read. Some participants–including yours truly, found this dismaying but, hey, it 0bviously works for her!
Others expressed privacy concerns about the whole new-media shebang. One participant who grew up in Germany said he does not tweet or join online fora for two reasons: (1) he is all to familiar with “stasi” –East Germany’s secret police and (2) “why should I make these undereducated Harvard dropouts rich?”
All-in all, the three days presented a powerful arc of discussion–with tweets blasting out throughout.
Transcripts and recordings of the sessions are available at http://www.hks.harvard.edu/presspol/news_events/archive/2011/25-anniversary.html .
—Anita M. Harris
Anita Harris, a former national journalist, is president of the Harris Communications Group, a strategic communications consulting firm located in Kendall Square, Cambridge, MA.