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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

Washington Post + social media « Previous | |Next »
September 30, 2009

As Jay Rosen points out the rhetoric of American journalism describes itself as an adversarial fourth estate, a redoubt for professional skeptics who scrutinize authority in the name of the public and help keep the public discourse honest. This self-image is moth-eaten since the corporate media mostly amplifies the agendas of others—the prominent and the powerful—and tends to aggressively assume its adversarial role only when someone or something—a president, a CEO, an institution—is wounded and vulnerable.

There is little dissent in the sense of refusing to accept that the range of possible solutions to the nation’s problems must necessarily come from the centers of power and influence or to sustained coverage of ideas and—crucially—solutions. One way of doing this questioning and debating is through blogs, as blogs, which are part of the gift economy, represent passage to the public sphere.

What journalists discover is that the “sphere of legitimate debate” as defined by journalists doesn’t match up with their own definition.The authority of the press to assume consensus, define deviance and set the terms for legitimate debate is weaker when people can connect horizontally around and about the news.

It takes us to “news as conversation,” more of a back-and-forth debate and less of a pronouncement or lecture as well as a shift in power from the traditional media's content providers to a self-informing public. The task of the press is to encourage the conversation in the public sphere not to preempt it or substitute for it or supply it with information as a seer from afar.

The Washington Post has Social Media Guidelines are severe:

Post journalists must refrain from writing, tweeting or posting anything—including photographs or video—that could be perceived as reflecting political, racial, sexist, religious or other bias or favoritism that could be used to tarnish our journalistic credibility. This same caution should be used when joining, following or friending any person or organization online. Post journalists should not be involved in any social networks related to advocacy or a special interest regarding topics they cover, unless specifically permitted by a supervising editor for reporting and so long as other standards of transparency are maintained while doing any such reporting.

So there are to be no independent voices on the Post even though many journalists now have one foot outside the corporation.Twitter is a way for journalists to connect with others, scholars, friends, locals, whomever, often with the goal of knowledge-building and sharing.

These rules are about the control of independent voices and an attempt to reassert the traditional news authority to maintain order by either keeping the deviant out of the news entirely or identifying it within the news frame as unacceptable or radical.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 7:24 AM | | Comments (4)


The politics of the media is simple.At the core of politics we have the same narrow corporate interests dictate political outcomes for their own benefit regardless of which party wins.

The political presses reference group for establishing the “ground” of consensus within which legitimate debate takes place is the insiders: the professional political class in Canberra. The Gallery then offers that consensus to the country as if it were the country’s own, when it’s not, necessarily.

Those outside the sphere of consensus are seen as deviant--this is the sphere where political actors and views which journalists and the political mainstream of society reject as unworthy of being heard.

Journalists who don't use social media are effectively locking themselves out of discussion. They need to be in it in order to report on it.

Take the iSnack 2.0 thing. A journalist who locks themselves out could only report the name, a bit of the Kraft media release and maybe some quotes from industry people. But the news here is the response from social media users - those the name seems intended to target.

If Conroy's report on the filtering trials is ever released, the response from users will be as important a part of the story as the report itself. What journalist would want to be locked out of that?

Lynden Barber at Unleashed on the ABC points out that Fairfax's Australian Financial Review, has asked its editorial staff to sign a nine page ethics policy requiring they only use Facebook, Twitter, blogs, wikis, forums and other websites that invite community participation "in a strictly personal capacity".

This he says is aimed at preventing journos from becoming entangled in public political debates that might compromise their professional profile. However, he adds, this policy actively prevents writers from building professional social networks using the tools the era demands.

I guess we have to accept that The Washington Post, like the classroom, was born of an industrial mode of thinking, where hierarchy and reproducibility were the order of the day.

The world outside those walls of both is networked and highly heterogeneous.--eg., the iSnack 2.0 thing re Kraft shows that the reality of the reality of the 21st century is that it is the networked era, the age of digital citizenship and the amateur blogger who do it for the love of the thing.

Big commercial media corporations are going to struggle with social media as they are a whole new way of looking at “journalism” that is distinct from “news”.