Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The industrial purveyors of consensus

Just read this description of the traditional media by HuffPo Off-the-Bus project coordinator / PressThink blogger / NYU j-school prof Jay Rosen:

...the industrial purveyors of one-to-many, consensus-is-ours news...

Indeed, that's how it was.

One-to-many, because newsfolks owned the delivery channels. They controlled what went into their channel. From them (the one) to the many (everyone in the community).

Today, of course, the fact that anyone can publish has transformed the situation in one that the tech world calls many-to-many. Anyone can broadcast (the many) to everyone else (the other many).

"Consensus-is-ours" because the printing press owners, ie: the journalists, decided what the narrative was, what the interpretation was, thereby creating the illusion of consensus.

With myriad voices online, the illusion has been shattered. There is no consensus anymore. There is no single narrative. There is no single interpretation.

To some traditional journalists, the myriad of narratives and interpretations is confounding. They assume that those differing viewpoints are driven by agenda. Because if there were no agenda, there would be objective reporting. And, they believe, objective reporting generates a single, consensus view of what happened and what it means.

And yet, that's not what it means at all. Anyone who's seen "Rashamon" can tell you that. The illusion of objectivity was a by-product of the fact that there was only a single channel through which to tell a story. The fact that there now are myriad channels (myriad viewpoints) doesn't mean that no one's objective. It only shows what we've always known: There are myriad ways of recalling and interpreting the same event.

The "one-to-many, consensus-is-ours" world was certainly an easier place to live. Readers didn't have to do so much work, and journalists could go to be certain they'd gotten the story "right." The new world requires more work of readers and more confidence, or at less attachment to being perceived as an authority, on the part of journalists. But just because it's a harder place to live, doesn't mean it's wrong.

Photo courtesy of David Silverline. Creative Commons licence.

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