When one quotes, forwards or retweets a reported fact (or opinion, for that matter), I believe it is considered good journalistic practice to try and reference a source as close as possible to the original event, observer or report.
David Weinberger‘s “transparency is the new objectivity” would support the suggestion that such practice is just as much required on the Net today than it has been in the press and public discourse traditionally.
(And BTW, Just like professor Weinberger does, I should really apologize for the cliché of “x is the new y.”)
Dan Gillmor appears to support this principle as well by recommending that we should be skeptical of everything (while not equally skeptical of everything) we read and always consider the trustworthiness of the source and the verifiability of its claim.
And while I agree that the transparency and verifiability of a story’s origin is an important attribute of its credibility, I also observe a dilemma here:
With the proliferating practice of reblogging and retweeting, it often seems increasingly cumbersome to track down the original source.
Amplification is the new circulation.
As we move away from the lecture model to the conversation model, facts and opinion spread through the social graph as by “word of post”.
Jay Rosen, I believe that this is a challenge for the rebooted news system and I would love to learn your take on it.
Let me offer an example.
My wife, Minnna Ojamies, is a native Finn, who follows the Finnish mainstream media closely. She serves as my “human filter” to the news in Finnish. She uses Google Reader to share the news reports which she considers most interesting. I subscribe to her shared reading on Google Reader.
Also I happen to share stuff I read; articles, posts and tweets which I think may be of interest to others and/or which I would like to capture for possible future reference.
What I share on Google Reader flows into an RSS feed (edited on Yahoo! Pipes to include the string “[Reading:]” in front of the headline), which is forwarded by notify.me via Ping.fm onto a number of “social” web services including my account on Twitter.
The other day, she shared this article published on Taloussanomat, reporting that the 100-dollar laptop, for which Nicholas Negroponte has been campaigning, had arrived.
I hadn’t seen this news in any of the other RSS feeds that I subscribe to. Unfortunately, the article was rather poor on source references. Also, it didn’t mention much anything about the timing of availability of the laptop in question, nor about its competition.
In other words, there was little transparency and verifiability to go by. Yet, when it comes to overall credibility as a news brand, Taloussanomat finds itself – in my perception at least – in positive territory. Therefor I shared it.
The topic interests me and if the report turns out to be “new and true”, I will be happy that I captured and amplified it. If not, I will be disappointed in Taloussanomat and regret amplifying noise rather than signal.
I could have done my own background check, of course. A simple web search would probably have done the trick. And services like Techmeme are helpful, too.
But my point, really, is that it may not be realistic to expect “amplifiers” to routinely carry out verification checks.
Personally, when I am in “reading mode”, catching up with my RSS subscriptions, I don’t necessarily want to allocate much time to verification. My priority is to read, capture and share (and amplification is a by-product which serves the rebooted news system).
So, I’m kinda wondering if it would be acceptable that we simply link to where we read the news – in my case the article by Taloussanomat – and perhaps trust that the rebooted news system will somehow take care of verifying the origin itself.
That, across all these chains of amplification, some people will actually go back and refer to the origin of the story – especially when doubt or controversy (combined with a lack of transparency or verifiability) pass a certain threshold.
There’s another remark or two that I wanted to make around amplification being the new circulation.
If we accept this framing of the new news system for a moment, it might lead us to believe that pay walls a la Rupert Murdoch constitute indeed an act of shooting oneself in the proverbial foot.
Let’s assume for a moment that the way to reach people on-line is less about signing up subscribers and more about amplification.
In a sense, the newspaper sales model can be associated with “push” and the amplification model with “pull”. Through subscription and sales outlets, stuff is pushed to people on certain terms, but only after recieving the package will they find out what they appreciate and what not. What they subsequently do like and decide to amplify is what they have pulled out as signal from the noise.
You can’t put it back into the tube, Mr. Murdoch!
In such a world, where pull trumps push and amplification trumps circulation, any content behind paywalls cannot be amplified.
Or rather, of course the message can be amplified – Washington Post readers also have Twitter accounts – but the paywall discourages the referencing of the original source.
So, if amplification is the new circulation, perhaps the amplifiers (that’s us) won’t always take the trouble of reading and verifying the original source, especially when it’s made cumbersome to do so. If important enough, we’ll do the fact-checking somehow routing around the paywall. Perhaps we’ll find our own sources.
(When sources go direct, they become senders. And if senders can go direct, so can receivers or readers.)
Finally: how about if the half time of news is approaching to zero, much like the cost of storage of digital content is approaching to zero?
In a variation to Chris Anderson, will it make best business sense to give the news away for free and sell something else? Some type of premium content? Live experiences?
In such scenario, high-quality news including investigative reporting will merely be a brand builder, an investment rather than a business of its own.