Beyond Objectivity: Global Voices and the Future of Journalism

[live blogging] My friend and colleague Lokman Tsui (@lokmant) is talking today at the Berkman Center about his current research:  Beyond Objectivity: Global Voices and the Future of Journalism.

Global Voices is “a community of more than 200 bloggers around the world who work together to bring you translations and reports from blogs and citizen media everywhere, with emphasis on voices that are not ordinarily heard in international mainstream media”. Why does this matter? The title of Lokman’s personal blog says it all: “Global Voices, One World”. Strangers can gather and discuss (the news) and form a public. Now with the Internet you have strangers you can connect to potentially everywhere. Habermas’ public sphere of coffee houses, Anderson’s notion of ‘imagined communities’ capture well this agora formed by online communities. Looking at how the Internet is destroying journalism is a one sided interpretation. The Internet offers new opportunities, a globalisation of culture.

Global Voices is a ‘new’ newsroom. Is it journalism? Most people writing for GV don’t see themselves as journalists – they see themselves as concerned citizens. Both GV and professional journalism are different vehicles to get to the truth. Through history journalism has changed – three ideal types of journalism: (1) “Professional journalism”, rooted in liberal democracy, whose main function is to produce information (2) “Alternative media”, which has its roots in participatory democracy, whose function is representation, (3) “Public journalism”, rooted in deliberative democracy, to facilitate conversation. These three ideal types have been born under different technological constraints. The cost of distribution has lowered. New forms of cultural production (see Benkler’s theory).

The golden standard of journalism has always been ‘objectivity’ – this standard, Lokman argues, does not even make sense for professional journalism. Lokman argues for “beyond objectivity, towards hospitality” – instead of deliberative democracy, we should think about ‘communicative democracy’, which gives power to all social groups, where the focus is on conversation, and on power inequality issues (rather than ‘differences’ a la Habermas) – power inequalities can be accommodated by ‘hospitality’, where different parties use their differences as a resource for conversation, to make their voices heard. Story-telling for example can be a very powerful tool for communication and the Internet has created an abundance of story-telling. Alternative media therefore help solving the problem of ‘inclusion’ and ‘representation’ – what main stream media have not been very successful at doing. Hospitality is the opposite of ‘hostility’. Hospitality is about access, recognition and appropriate response: you acknowledge differences.

This proliferation of people who can tell stories and speak online also creates challenges. The attention span is scarce. How do we deal with information overload? Is it an individual’s responsibility? It is actually a public good problem. The world is better off as a whole, so we need to look at the role of institutions in this puzzle: it is institutions which have the power to steer attention. Online we have website which act as ‘aggregators’ (for example Rotten Tomatoes, Yelp, Amazon). Global Voices is one of such aggregators.

Lokman’s conclusions: is the notion of hospitality new-agey? it’s about recognizing that there are power differences at play, and that from time to time we need to subvert these power relations – it is a duty. This raises the normative stakes at play!

I like the fact the Lokman quoted Hannah Arendt in several parts of his talk. Check out the webcast when it becomes available here.

Author: Corinna

Corinna di Gennaro (BSc LSE; MPhil, DPhil, Oxon) is a sociologist and a professional in the printing industry.

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