Evolving Collective Intelligence by Tom Atlee

Exploring how to generate the collective wisdom we need

Exploring how to generate the collective wisdom we need

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Islanda, quando il popolo sconfigge l'economia globale.

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April 19, 2005

Open Source Journalism and Public Framing of Issues

I just ran across a piece I wrote for the South By SouthWest interactive conference (SXSW) this year. Organizers had posed a question about blogs' impact on media, asking for panelists' responses. It was a timely request, as I'd just met open source videographer Kent Bye at an online social networks conference the previous month, and we'd stumbled on a vision combining his views on integral journalism and my views on issue-framing and public deliberation. We ended up having a video'd conversation at SXSW that was broadcast around the conference. Below are the original question they posed, and my response.

The SXSW blog question for March 8

Beginning on February 14 and extending though the end of the month, uber-blogger Jeff Jarvis and New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller engaged in a lively e-mail discussion about the the ongoing love / hate relationship between mainstream media and participatory journalism. At one point, Jarvis remarked: "Are blogs an echo chamber? On the edges, they are. But there is a vast middle ground of people who are neither red nor blue and defy such simplistic media categorization. We are who we are and our blogs represent us. Also note that we link to those with whom we disagree so we can disagree. That cacophony of voices and viewpoints seems so unruly to those of us who've made our living ordering the world for print. But the noise is good. It's democratic." Meanwhile, Keller eventually countered "It's striking that there seems to be no end to any argument in your world. Every grievance is recycled endlessly, not necessarily spiraling up to a higher level of enlightenment but starting over and over from scratch. It's 'Groundhog Day.'" What are your thoughts on the virtual conversation between these two? What does it say about the escalating power of blogs that the Executive Editor of the nation's top newspaper would devote so much time to this dialogue with Jarvis? How can the mainstream media change to become more relevant to those who get the bulk of their news via blogs? Is the relationship between bloggers and journalists inherently antagonistic, or are these two groups complementary? What worries you more -- the lack of traditional standards of journalism in the blog world, or the corporate ownership of the mainstream media?

I commented:

Perhaps the Jarvis/Keller debate is the noise natural to a transition. Perhaps mainstream journalism is the thesis -- and blogging is the antithesis. Perhaps the synthesis will be a new form of citizen journalism -- distributed participatory journalism for collective intelligence -- that goes beyond the "he said/she said" pseudo-objectivity of the current mainstream journalism ("If the President said it, it's a fact that he said it, so we'll report it") and beyond the free-wheelingly subjective cacophony of blogdom.

Perhaps someday soon there will be online, open source software enabling a hyper-journalistic equivalent of Wikipedia. Perhaps, using that revolutionary software for open source journalism, bloggers and others (including grad students, professional journalists, intelligence agents, soccer moms, etc.) will collaborate to build up coherent multiple-viewpoint perspectives on every newsworthy event, official statement, public issue, etc. - all in one place (or in one kind of cyber-resource blossoming in many places, like search engines and wikis do).

In such a virtual space, events will accumulate facts (linked to sources) supporting, undermining or conditionalizing diverse interpretations of those events.

Statements will likewise accumulate facts that support or belie them, with software to help analyze if they are deceptive or not (it turns out there are methods for doing this).

Issues will be contextualized ("framed") with the various approaches proposed to address them -- with arguments for and aganst each approach, as well as the values and concerns that gave rise to it, and the likely consequences and trade-offs involved in it.

And with the sources of all this information linked or identified, those sources could also be subjected to supporting, contradicting or contextualizing information and analysis.

Thousands of people from across the political spectrum would add their perspectives and data into a collective, multi-perspectival (intersubjective) articulation of complex, multi-faceted realities. The WHOLE picture of the event, statement or issue would emerge like a developing (pre-digital) photo, in its glorious real complexity, but in some kind of order that made that complexity coherent, able to be tracked and evaluated by anyone (who could link their analysis into the whole, along with others' analyses). And those who did the best job of evaluating and making unbiased meaning out of this vast body of fully available data would gather followings....

Citizens (or students or deliberative bodies) could consult this rich, expanding and ever-evolving online library of multi-viewpoint information, to help make up their own minds. This would be a culminating breakthrough for democratic journalism.

Both mainstream journalists and bloggers would then have to do their work in the bright light of this comprehensive resource that they unwittingly helped bring about. And the Jarvis/Keller debate would become a footnote in journalistic history.

This vision emerged from the late Robert Theobald's idea of "problem/possibility focusers" and rapidly evolved in the last couple of weeks in conversation with one of the pioneers of "Integral Journalism," Kent Bye.


posted by Tom Atlee on Tuesday April 19 2005
updated on Saturday September 24 2005

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