The Future of News, Civic Engagement, and Everything

The future of news is tied directly to the future of how citizens are informed. This connection is confirmed by Starr and Kovach and Rosenstiel. I would go a step further and say that the news is connected to civic engagement and participation. This is increasingly true as participatory and social media provide a way for anyone to join the discussion of events and articles. I think this trend towards greater participation and engagement with the news is a good thing and should continue, but I also think there is a place for traditional media.

Participatory media alone has two opposite problems; either there is so much information on an subject that it is impossible to fully understand the discussion and topic itself or not enough people talk about and analyze a subject. I think traditional media serves two key roles to balance out a mostly participatory news ecosystem. First, traditional media synthesizes and distills the discussions in participatory media and projects this information to a broader audience. Second, traditional media serves as a guidepost for what topics are important for citizens to discuss and investigate.

The traditional media is still in an incredibly powerful and potentially dangerous role. If anything, it is more powerful than before as citizens intentionally or unintentionally base their own increasingly spread beliefs on what they hear in the traditional media. As a result, it needs to be handled carefully. One example of an issue highlighted by Kovach and Rosenstiel is the corporate influence of news. We need to develop ways of minimizing and disclosing these external influences if traditional media is to have its ideas spread throughout participatory media.

Just as participatory media is balanced by traditional, this issue with traditional media can be tempered by participatory media. In the early stages of a story, journalists can listen to the conversations in participatory media, understand them, and incorporate them in the story. We need to make this balancing cycle easier by developing tools and fostering collaboration between professional journalists and citizens.

Aaron Swartz proposed an interesting solution for the future of transparency and news. He suggested that journalists, bloggers, programmers, lobbyists, and people with all sorts of skills work together in investigative strike teams to understand and fix society’s problems. I think this is a great way for traditional and participatory media to benefit from each other in a way that results in not only increased access to information but also tangible improvements to the world.

I also think this is happening naturally in many ways. Leaking organizations are one example of this process. Many leaking organizations are independent institutions run by normal citizens who receive and verify information, find background and supplementary information, analyze documents, and work with traditional media partners to release and explain the information. At their best, leaking organizations work very much like Swartz’s investigative strike teams. We need to encourage investigative strike team-like partnerships, teach people how to make participatory media, and build structures to make it easier to get involved and understand all the information available. I have one specific proposal for doing that in leaking here.

One thought on “The Future of News, Civic Engagement, and Everything

  1. I appreciate your cautions about the power and dangers of news, as well as your call towards participation. I think it’s wise to be equally cautious about possible excesses in participatory media and to think through solutions that bring the best of both together. I wonder whether you’ll find any of Clay Shirky’s thinking on this provocative or helpful.

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