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On Media and Authority

2010 March 15
by Tedb0t

Gawker blawgged about a new survey by the Pew Foundation’s Project for Excellence in Journalism that would seem to indicate the dearth of people willing to pay for news.

What I find interesting about this is that this, like Wikipædia, is the logical conclusion (or progression at least) of the death of the concept of authority.  When Wikipedia came along, a lot of the auld school angrily assumed that this Could Never Work because it’s not backed by an authority that carefully examines a subject and adheres to strict guidelines regarding some particular ideology or ethics, i.e. Not Lying.  Since the intent of the *pedia is to accurately convey True Information, “Not Lying” would seem to be an advantageous strategy.We have pretty much the exact same situation with journalism and the publication and dissemination of news.  Accuracy is the whole point, but we can now finally (re)acknowledge the idea that a story’s accuracy is only as good as the amount of corroboration available.The cool thing is that now we have more new means for corroborating information than ever, or at least new information—for instance, last summer’s Iranian election protests, in which hundreds of individuals acting on their own could post photos of real events as they transpired.  In other words, we no longer have to trust a particular news outlet, as we can corroborate any particular claim with the claims of many other sources.  In more other words, the Information Bottleneck has been drastically widened in at least some cases.

Now there is in fact Wikinews, which I hadn’t heard of until I just tried googling for it, and Indymedia et al., but what I’d like to see is a kind of rating system of corroboration; something that tallies how many people concur with the information in question.  (But yes, I am aware of the millions of practical problems that would present, but in theory it would be interesting).

This process happens between people all the time as it is; it is how trust and reputation works.  I suppose the obvious drawbacks to the death of traditional Authoritative Media is the availability of resources and drawbacks like language barriers.  The NYT has the resources to send a journalist to some far away part of the world and trusts her to report back honestly about what she sees, in English.  Someone living there could theoretically publish their own observations, in another language, and we would not have the benefit of inheriting trust from the already well-established medium.

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One Response
  1. March 15, 2010

    A few quick thoughts.

    You conflate people with non-human things (alternately, you’re an animist and attribute intentions to all entities).

    The wikiepdia doesn’t have an intent. “Jimbo” does—and he also has a LOT of money.

    The News doesn’t have an intent. The person making accessible some information does. So do people ‘consuming’ that media. The difficulty here is that often times it is frequently that case that the ‘point’ is rarely only “the accurate exchange of information.”

    News producers want money, or to influence the beliefs of people.
    News consumers want entertainment, and demonstration that their already formed ethical convictions are true (or at least an effective way to parse actions in the world as beneficial and harmful).

    These additional ‘intentions’ lead to things like blog headlines that are designed to get more hits, but are misleading (e.g. that court ruled that vaccine did not cause autism … when really it ruled that sufficient evidence was not provided to demonstrate that the vaccine was the sole cause of autism in such a way that the provider would be financially liable).

    This is true of newspaper headlines.

    The question for me is, are there institutional checks available in either system that can curb the extraneous intentions/desires from detrimentally influencing what you call “the point.”

    Also, I don’t know how you are distinguishing authority from accuracy. 1. ‘On what authority do I trust that your presentation of information is accurate,’ seems to be the most complete thought having either terms in them–that is they mutually implicate one another. If I have the facts present at hand, then the authority of the facts—but then I don’t need your reporting (though I could use your analysis, your sifting through the huge quantity of information and relating different bits that are relevant to other bits and presenting it to me in useful ways). All of this still seems to be at play in non-trad. media. So, authority doesn’t simply vanish, at least in any sense of the term I can think of.

    Damn, I have more I’d like to write and I’d like to revise these thoughts, but I have to go!!!!!!

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