Just the facts?

Just the facts?

Panelists at yesterday's "What is Civic Media?" forum (a project of MIT's brand new Center for Future Civic Media) suggested that in order to produce "constructive media," you can't just expect that a conversation alone will spark social change -- that's not practicing what they referred to as "technorealism." Getting people connected and giving them a platform for contributing their opinions may help indirectly by engaging potential voters, but that says nothing of the content people are producing. How do we really maximize the impact of collective input?

To answer that question, we have to once again reconsider the role of "citizen journalist," which seems to instigate endless arguments like we had at our NeighborMedia meeting last weekend: How can objective journalists encourage activism while remaining neutral? Wouldn't that be a conflict of interest? These age-old ethical questions seem to come up wherever the word "journalism" is lurking. We've already discussed how it's always important to balance each story with opposing viewpoints because bias is inevitable, especially for those reporting on their own neighborhoods. What we need to encourage each contributor to do, additionally, is to make sure all their opinions are rooted in fact. On one level, as we mentioned at orientation, transparency is an important value for citizen media-makers because it allows the public to judge each blogger's credibility; but on another level, we should be encouraging credible input by all if we are to help affect change.

Don't get me wrong: If NeighborMedia becomes a social networking site for Cambridge residents, that would be pretty cool. But even cooler would be if people presented valid and useful information that could really make a difference in the community.


I love hearing this discussion, particularly delving into the question of whether ANY journalism is unbiased - with NeighborMedia, we are encouraging people to explore issues in which they have a stake, and therefore, cannot be considered unbiased. But at least that's out there and transparent, whereas in the mainstream media, there is an assumption that journalists are telling the story objectively, but how do we know? How do we know if that network or newspaper has some stake in the story, financially, or otherwise? Anytime we decide which way to point a camera, or who to quote, or what quote to use, we are not being objective. Just the nature of the beast.