Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Nelson hits a homer at APME

If I may indulge in the cliched baseball terminology so evident this time of year, Alan Nelson of Command Post hit a home run with his speech to the Associated Press Managing Editors meeting. It was posted Sunday, but I hadn't seen it until Rafat Ali at PaidContent pointed to it today.

You need to read this.

Though I disagree with one part of it (see post below), I think Nelson nails the essence of the challenges traditional journalists face in the evolution of media with his Law of the Flow, Law of the Fast, Law of the Few and Law of the Many.

The Cliff notes:
  • Law of the Flow/Law of the Fast: News is now a flow, not something to gain value from being stockpiled anymore. "The Internet hates brokers. It KILLS brokers. ... Your ability to choose when and how something is reported, and the timeline over which you can hold information as you make that choice, are more compressed every day. .. The important question to ask about a piece of information ... and especially highly relevant information ... is no longer 'if,' it's 'when.' "
  • Law of the Few: "While the network kills brokers, it LOVES editors." Nelson labels them mavens -- the ones who cull the relevant information "and surface what's worth attending to." Distinguished from gatekeepers, mavens cull and move it, not cull and consider it. This is where Nelson sees editors as "guides," not gatekeepers. This is not a totally new idea. John Newhagen and Mark Levy were using the term "pathfinders" in a seminal book chapter as far "back" as 1998.
  • Law of the Many: The media system we are building will have tens of thousands of fact checkers, lessening if not obviating the need for editors as a "gatekeeper of the facts with an interest in quality." This is where Nelson and I diverge. I think this is a simplistic argument that fails to recognize that no amount of self-correction can undo the damage originally done by inaccuracy or falsehood.
If you want to understand better the challenges we face in journalism, read this, copy it, and read it again every few months.


At 10/22/04, 3:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

> "I think this is a simplistic argument that fails to recognize that no amount of self-correction can undo the damage originally done by inaccuracy or falsehood."

Yes - "the hare of credulity outruns the tortoise of skepticism", and human nature is such that the tortoise may never catch up.

This is illustrated by Rebecca MacKinnon in
("Question 4"):

"...cybercafés in Peshawar. There were lots of them…down the dusty alleys where open sewers ran and dirty children played, young men (and out there they WERE almost all men) logged on, uncensored, to the world wide web.
Many of these young men were convinced that they had the “real facts” about 9/11: such as the “fact” that the people who flew the planes into the World Trade Center towers were really Jews. Why did they know it was true? Because this version of 9/11 was all over the internet websites and chatrooms frequented by young people throughout the Islamic world. ..."


At 10/22/04, 5:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mark Twain said, "A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes," but now journalists can gain speed. If you have accurate information (a big IF sometimes) why let amateurs with bad information (another big assumption that's often not the case) reach more people faster? Blogs and other online conversations tend to orbit the truth. There's a gravitational pull that pulls the conversation toward the truth as many people weigh in. Beware of taking a snapshot of the conversation, though. At one moment the conversation may be close to accurate (closer than anyone else has come) but at another moment it might be knocked for a loop that's far from the truth before it's pulled back in.

My goal is not to repeat a claim that's on the Internet, but to report on what happens to that claim: How it gets challenged, investigated and straightened out. Bloggers have fact-checked journalists, and journalists have needed to fact-check bloggers. We'll need both.

Brian Cubbison

At 10/22/04, 6:45 PM, Blogger Doug said...

An excellent point -- we need both. And probably more than that sometimes in a world where spin and speed can make for a deadly combination.


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