“Are Editors Moribund?”

BBC NEWS | The Editors |

That’s the question the BBC is asking (link above). “What is there left when voices rise in debate without chairman or standing orders? You have babble, not Google,” they argue (an argument that is itself, of course, an editorial decision.) I don’t much care for the “chairman” analogy — I’m too much of an anarchist for that protofascist yearning for parental discipline — but it seems to me that the more the soup is stirred the higher the premium on a discriminating palate. As long as that palate can be recognized or appreciated.

Social bookmarking sites like Digg and Del.icio.us replace the editorial function with a kind of democratic free-for-all, largely unrestrained by any checks and balances. Which does present opportunities. But recent studies have shown that a small number of people are able to control most of the high-ranking articles on such sites through established networks.

Which system is better for protecting minority and alternative views? Are there other options? How can alternative viewpoints make themselves heard, when the whole world is tuned in to American Idol?

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  1. Listen, I could write a book about this kind of stuff! Oh, in fact I did: Inside Talk Radio: America’s Voice or Just Hot Air? Talk radio is, arguably, the precursor of this problem / nonsense / free-for-all / democratic opportunity. My instinct is to consider it a democratic opportunity, but in fact, I’ve learned to accept some elitist attitudes: yes, give me a gatekeeper, an editor, an expert in something to sift through the slush pile for me and help me decide what to read, what to pay attention to . . .

    I think I could be pretty content for a long while on a desert island with Beowulf, the Bible, maybe the Odyssey and perhaps Ulysses. Throw in Moby Dick and I probably don’t need much more. So if I am going to face the avalanche of new material out there in so many platforms and from so many sources, do I want some guidance or am I prepared for just wading through the avalanche? My answer: give me some help, please. Let me know the credentials of the helpers. I can always jettison them and go to the babble if I feel shackled.

    Now, to prove just how prepared I am to try most anything, just check out this clip.

  2. At this time, when I compare my edited Google blog to Digg’s coverage of Google, I can still see the need for a filtered, trusted environment like a blog. Digg misses some stories and repeats others. An editor on the other hand knows what she posted about yesterday. On the other hand, Digg can improve over time, and they’re already very fast on breaking news on the subject I track, Google.

    I don’t know how well e.g. Digg fares however on minority topics/ topics that are less popular. After all, Google is a popular topic. But what about alternative but important news? (What if we start feeding ourselves only the information we already approve?) And how well do these sites fare for non-tech topics in general?

  3. It seems to me that people are disposed to order, structure and map information in a great variety of ways — however they receive it. While any blog or web site can publish just about any amount of any kind of news it wants; if it doesn’t have a focus or some kind of focusing idea or direction, it won’t get much traffic. So editing is really something that is likely to be a contantly evolving and dialectical element in news blogs. Blogs that cease to inspire their creators will die off, and blogs that do not say consistently say something interesting to an existing, emerging or new audience are not likely to have much mpact. Those who suppress or ignore truths pouring in from multiple other sources will suffer a similar fate. So news editing is ALREADY constantly taking place — and self made blog editors will emerge out of whatever informational ferment the world delivers to us. A deeper question may be: What is the qualty of these editors? Will people get good news this way? Can we keep the barbarians outside the gate?

    Frankly, I think we need to let a few in. We are not getting good news now. The quality of what people see on network news is pretty poor, and often framed by special interests.

    Take Lebanon. If you watch CNN, you would assume that 95% of Lebanese worship Hezbollah and have no interesting in seeing that organization disarmed in the wake of the devastation left by the war. On the other hand, if you read an editorial recently appearing in the Wall Street journal, you might easily assume from that apparently well-documented article that Hezbollah has suffered major political damage as a result of the war. I suspect the truth is a lot more complicated than either of these institutions presents it — but how are we to find that out if we ONLY listen to these “experts” whose parent institutions have major interests which inevitably pollute the pretended objectivity of the news they package for us?

    In an internet age, we expect a more interactive and dialectical understanding of the world in which we draw in and “edit” our view of the world. This is isn’t the 50’s in which we had three TV channels and bought, voted, and consumed pretty much on a mass market basis. Today, we are not sponges or couch potatoes, although some of us may yearn for the innocence of the days when we were. Perhaps that innocence was our guilt. Today, in a sense we are all “editors” harvesting our realities from the plethora of sources around us all the time: often rendering oppinions and facts, as well as recei ving them from multiple sources. This is almost certainly very irritating to those political, ideological and commercial entities who wish to mold and direct public oppinion, but I think it enhances a news environment that has already become moribund. Anyone who follows the news that there are major stories that are suppressed for months or even years. The major guerrilla war in Guatemala, for example, that has waged on and off or a quarter of a century, and has sent more than half a million refugees into Mexico. (The networks and major newspapers have bizarrely reported on the refugees, but they have said virtually nothing about the war, past or present.)

    In the last few years blogs have fired up a whole series of issues that the major networks were not dealing with well at all: The war in Iraq being a primary example. We need only look aat how surprised commentators seem to be that the president and his party ore losing popularity to realize that the networks are out of touch. Blogs speak from the American Street, and from all fragments of the political and ideological spectrum, both nasty and nice. CNN now constanltly refers to what blogs are saying — and treats them as a source for their broadcasts. Are blogs factual and accurate? Often not — but then neither are the networks and the major papers. Is there a danger that bad information will be widely believed? Maybe, but only if we have a small information elite that tailors our information intake to the needs of the institutions they serve. Multiple independent sources of news are our best guarantee that some sort of truth will leak through.