Open source reporting starts getting respect

If tapping into non-economic motivations is OK in software, why can't it be OK in journalism?

Who broke the U.S. Attorney scandal that is now fascinating political Washington? According to the Columbia Journalism Review, bloggers.

Who offered the best coverage of the Scooter Libby trial? According to The New York Times, bloggers. In fact many top journalists were caught up in that trial, and in my view found wanting.

Memo to Tim Russert. When sources talk to you the default is that your conversation is on the record. Only stenographers turn the default to off.

This is not a partisan point. Conservative bloggers got credit for Rathergate, a scandal involving former CBS anchor Dan Rather that helped propel President Bush's re-election in 2004.

The fact that all these stories were broken and pursued by political partisans is an important point. It's one the "mainstream media" uses to dismiss such reports, but the criticism does not disguise the fact that these partisans can scoop paid reporters and, eventually, win apologies.

Programmers work hard, often without pay, to code or provide support on open source projects, for similar reasons. Belief is a powerful motivator in open source, and many companies now license commercial programs under the GPL to tap into that belief.

If tapping into non-economic motivations is OK in software, why can't it be OK in journalism?

The whole idea of a non-partisan, professional, detached media is a mid-20th century invention, created by funds from press lords like Joseph Pulitzer and the heirs of Joseph Medill who themselves had firm ideological biases, and who often used their papers on behalf of them. Their names now adorn America's two best journalism schools. I went to Medill's.

Today's open source journalism takes us back over a century, to an era when journalism was indeed politics by another name, and where readers voted for truth with their pennies. Once again it's the market, measured in dollars and profit, that will judge.

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