Harvard hosts conference on technological future of news media

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Friday, April 1, 2005

Harvard University recently hosted a symposium called "Whose News? Media, Technology and the Common Good" at its Nieman Foundation for Journalism. Held March 3-4 and providing a certain amount of video to be rebroadcast through the web, the event was widely commented on by both bloggers and traditional media.

Among the participants was Richard Sambrook, Director of the BBC World Service and Global News Division, which has taken on the challenge of incorporating the voices of citizen journalists into their news gathering and presentation process. At what he calls the "community level", the BBC is engaging a project called "Digital Storytelling" in which they are assisting and working with individuals in the recording and production of videos that "document their lives and report and cull things of importance to them", which the BBC has then distributed by a variety of means. They are also encouraging participation in issues of citizen concern at the national and international levels.

Some participants such as co-creator of the seminar, Matt Thompson expressed concern over the growing centralization of the ownership of mainstream news media in the hands of a few corporate sponsors, at the same time it incorporates these growing sources of audience information. "I think that people are looking forward to a media that can truly respond to them, even if the...corporate centralization aspects of it in this giant 'Googlezon' entity give many people pause" quoting a MetaFilter.com thread to the effect, "I for one welcome our new Googlezon overlords."

There was some discussion of the traditional media and its engagement with recent issues of national importance. "I think there's been a massive media failure across the board...there's been an institutional failure", said MediaChannel Executive Editor Danny Schechter in discussing his film, "WMD: Weapons of Mass Distortion". He suggested two basic fixes including "more diversity of perspective...let's have a real debate and discussion" and "don't take everything at face value and check facts and look at perspectives from other countries." He decried what he called "groupthink" in American media and called for "more feisty independent journalists, and more watchdog, less lapdog."

However, some other critics have elsewhere expressed concerns about the actual independence and diversity of webloggers and other non-traditional media as an antidote to perceived media bias. For example, there is often a perceived lack of race or sex diversity among top bloggers. Steven Levy, a senior editor of Newsweek, has recently written a column addressing concerns about the over-representation of white males among top bloggers on the Internet. Technorati.com, a website which describes itself as "the authority on what is happening on the real-time web", maintains a list of the top 100 blogs that was used as the basis for his column. However, others such as Heather Mac Donald at National Review have pointed out that there are no actual barriers to participation to anyone who wishes to engage in blogging, and so such imbalances in representation are probably not the result of personal bias.