Media literacy in a media saturated world

Media literacy in a media saturated world

Summary: The question of what becomes of journalism in the age of mass media, in which anyone with an Internet connection can be their own publisher and reach a potential audience of billions with a single click was the subject of a conversation at a cybersalon hosted by Sylvia Paull near the UC Berkeley campus on Sunday.

TOPICS: Tech Industry

The question of what becomes of journalism in the age of mass media, in which anyone with an Internet connection can be their own publisher and reach a potential audience of billions with a single click was the subject of a conversation at a cybersalon hosted by Sylvia Paull near the UC Berkeley campus on Sunday.

The intent was to discuss Andrew Keen’s controversial book, “The Cult of the Amateur: How today’s Internet is killing our culture,” which argues that the hordes of amateurs pumping out content, the ‘democratization of the Web,’ is leading to a destruction of culture and fragmentation of identity.

Keen characterized his book, which is due out June 5, as a grenade and a polemic designed to stimulate discussion on the impact of placing the tools of creation, production and distribution in the hands of billions of people.

The panelists included Keen along with, Dan Gillmor, visiting professor at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and author of "We the Media: Grassroots Journalism By the People, For the People"; Katie Hafner, technology reporter for the New York Times and author of several books, including "Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins Of The Internet"; and Robert Scoble, producer of and coauthor of "Naked Conversations: How Blogs are Changing the Way Businesses Talk with Customers."

Keen decried the narcissism pervading new media in his diatribe against the amateurs. “There are two groups of people I wanted to annoy in the book, the libertarians on the left—the Dave Winer’s of the world, the computer culturalists who have found something to whine about, and the Republican libertarian, economic radicals like Chris Anderson [author of The Long Tail],” Keen said.

Winer gave his opinion of Keen's book in a February post: "There's no food for thought in this book. I was ready for a work that would inspire a thoughtful response, because I like Andrew, at a personal level, but this book is beneath criticism. Back to the drawing board."

Gillmor, whose work is cited in Keen’s book, said the book was “riddled with errors and a misrepresentation of things I know about.”

Keen apparently has hit some nerves, but the debate about the veracity of his book didn’t last long, with the conversation pivoting to the traditional media vs. new media debate. Is traditional media going to be chewed up and spit out by millions of bloggers, podcasters and videocasters, the self-absorbed monkeys typing on keyboards as Keen represents in his forthcoming book?

“The world is not binary,” Gillmor said. “It’s nuanced and complicated, and we are failing to deal with that in this conversation. No one is arguing that traditional media reaches absolute perfection or arguing that new media is perfect….We are engaged in finding our way in a difficult period of de-evolution of the old journalism business model and the rise of a new one.”

He went to say, “Whether we can make it through this very messy period with great journalism is a question, but I think we can. It will include things we directly pay for and indirectly pay for with advertising, and individuals and collectives at the edge of network will create value.”

Agreed. Traditional media is under great business pressure. The San Francisco Chronicle just announced a layoff of one quarter of its news staff. But bloggers are not summarily replacing traditional journalists as primary sources of news. Traditional journalists and media outlets are migrating to Web and new media journalists are hooking up with mainstream media.

The top stories on TechMeme on any given day include scoops from traditional media. For example, the top tech stories at midday on TechMeme on May 21 were from the Wall Street Journal, BBC, The New York Times and the Washington Post. Hafner talked about the benefit of working at a paper like the New York Times, which has the resources and support infrastructure to allow her and colleagues to work on time-consuming investigative scoops.

But new media startups, such as GigaOm, TechCrunch and VentureBeat are breaking stories, as well as the ‘older’ new media, such as, ZDNet’s blog network, BusinessWeek blogs and Eric Savitz’s blog at Barrons, and media you have never heard of before.

A continuum of new and traditional media outlets have earned reputations as trusted, albeit imperfect, sources of information, and who are viewed as key outlets by vendors and information consumers. And, they have to earn their reputations every day.

Importantly, thousands of bloggers, podcasters and videocasters are refactoring primary sources and bringing new insights, expertise and fresh trails to follow via their contributions to the data pool. Democratization of media comes along with a lot of crap, but it also allows a more diverse set of authorities on any topic or subject matter to emerge.

What ultimately came out of the conversation was general agreement was that a more discerning and skeptical public is desirable in the age of mass media production and consumption. “Media literacy is a broad cultural issue…it’s about education and how you consume information,” said Keen. “That is the fundamental challenge we have to address. If we create new media that reflects the personalized consumer-centric culture and is easy simple and quick to consume, then media literacy won’t happen. It takes a lot of effort—there are no shortcuts.”

Keen is looking to parents, peer groups and educational systems to halt the slide in media literacy, to save the MySpace generation from a life of ignominy.

But what is media literacy? Reading the New York Times and instead of reading blogs of questionable authority or humorous YouTube videos? Keen pointed out what he termed as a lack of qualitative judgment in the fact that the Wikipedia entry for Pamela Anderson was far larger than that of Hannah Arendt. Hafner said that Wikipedia would reach equilibrium. “I would submit that Hannah Arendt will increase and Pamela Anderson will diminish in this beautiful, organic way.”

I’m not sure that’s the case, given that a major portion of the world’s population is more fixated on "American Idol" than on how to fix healthcare systems.

“There is a major need for what will amount to a whole new kind of media literacy in a media saturated world. We have to do it,” Gillmor said. “Everybody should have some skepticism but amount of skepticism depends on the source.” was pointed out as an experiment is a community, somewhat like Digg, recommending stories to each other as a way to assist readers in finding the more trusted sources.

Michael Goldhaber, who is known for his research on the attention economy, chimed in from the audience, said, “We all need BS detectors for anything we read.”

Scoble, who has been a pioneer in the emergence of blogging, described his 24-hour rule. “If something is wrong [with a post], watch the comments and see how fast and strong they are.” The Web has a self-correcting mechanism that isn’t always correct, but it is an efficient method of getting at truths, and is complementary to having a staff of professional editors and fact checkers.

As Scott Rosenberg of Salon said, “We put it out there and get a better story over time.”

You can't legislate notions of media literacy or intellectual rigor, but more attention should be focused on educating children to be more careful readers and for social networking to include thinking about and acting upon what makes a good community.

See also: Scott Rosenberg's post on the cybersalon, Renee  Blodgett's coverage of the event

Topic: Tech Industry

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  • I'm not going to cry for them

    That part about BS detectors is no less true for the "Journalism" of these professional journalists, who've been caught out repeatedly by "amateurs". The famous Al Gore "I invented the Internet" phrase was invented by a "professional" journalist, who, when called out on her mistake, made a back-handed "apology" that simply reinforced what she originally said. Because of the lack of BS detectors, everyone in the media jumped on the bandwagon, reporting Al Gore saying this, when he never ever did, and most people TO THIS DAY don't realize that he did not say this phrase.

    I've read about journalists, in defending "professional" journalism, coming up with this idea of their being "Gatekeepers" of the news. This is bogus, being in fact nothing more than information control.

    Anyhow, I'm not going to cry any tears over the "loss of a culture". Time marches on, and the old gives way to the new. I don't think any of us miss the loss of the horse-drawn carriage culture, when there was a wagon in every barn, for example. This whole bruhaha is much ado about nothing. (Shakespeare! I must not be an illiterate n00b just yet!)
    D. W. Bierbaum
    • In addition to this point...

      When they talk about the need of the public to be skeptical of what they read, they should point out that this has always been true.

      Now it might be easier to be skeptical of what one reads, since there is so much out there that is over the top, or downright silly, where before, people trusted in the "professionalism" of journalists who are just as human as the rest of us, and who are wrong in their reportage just as much as the rest of us, despite all those "safeguards" they rely on. (I am reminded of the phrase: "Logic is a method for being wrong with confidence.")
      D. W. Bierbaum
  • WE see thru their game...

    Thanks to the internet, the news that they didn't really use planes on 911 is getting out. WE went to war over cartoons. It was the overlords testing their black weapons and their ability to make people believe in the impossible.
    • WHOSE Game???

      It's wingnuts like this that give blogging a bad name.
      • for steve billsey

        I am trying to reach Steve Billsey that does computer consulting in the Wilmington, NC area... is this you? If so, please contact me.
  • Sounds to me like somebody is trying to

    close the barn door after the horses got out. Sorry, in a vain attempt to justify his job all the author succeeded in doing is pointing out why the "professional" media isn't needed anymore. After all, we had Dan Rather knowingly using false documents as a basis for his reporting. We've had similar attempts by the media to force public opinion in a direction usually against the best interests of the public. We've had our media lead us to war ("Remember the Maine") we had our media try to doctor an election as recently as the 2000 presidential race when they falsely called the state for Gore when the polls weren't even closed yet. Basically, we the people appear to be tired of the professional media making up the news and trying to tell us what we should think about events rather than just reporting the events and letting us draw our own conclusions.
    • This doesn't even include what they DON'T report.

      When is the last time a Libertarian or Green candidate got anywhere near the coverage of the Republican or Democratic candidates? Why are the one's most reported on, the ones who have collected the largest campaign funds? It's the candidates who can't afford ads who need news outlets to DO THEIR JOB OF REPORTING NEWS, by reporting on these candidates with as much fervor and frequency as they use on reporting on the frontrunners, who are frontrunners because of nothing more than name-recognition in most cases.

      What reporters have not reported on is at least as important to us as what they've mis-reported and outright falsified. Even with the less serious stuff, I'd prefer a "feel-good" story to the latest attempt by Paris Hilton to avoid an "excessive" sentence that was half of what normal folks get for the same crime. I sometimes think of Journalists as being in some sort of incestuous relationship with celebrities, so that they'd rather report on these than giving a boost to no-name folks doing important BUT UNREPORTED things for their communities.
      D. W. Bierbaum
      • tv versus print

        What you're describing is primarily the domain of the national television media and not the community newspaper print journalist. Unfortunately television media is reliant on viewership numbers above all else and some lame story about Paris is of more interest to the brain-dead than say, I don't know, that abyssmal state of health care in this country. What can you expect when the same corporation owns the news outlet and the television network that airs "the simple life"?
    • One other thing to add

      Keene is right we are destroying his culture a culture of professional manipulators whose focus has drifted from reporting facts to giving opinion as fact. As I learned in my Journalism classes the one great unforgivable sin would be giving an opinion and stating it as a fact which our current professional media does constantly whether it's CBS news or Fox News or any of them in between. Opinion is an interesting part of the overall news picture but it needs to be clearly labeled as opinion not buried in a so called news story. When our "professional" media starts behaving professionally then maybe their readership and viewership will return.
    • Absolutely right!

      Just to add one more item to your list of mass media manipulations. Did you know that just before the Washinton Post decided to open the Watergate scandal, Katharine Graham was dennied an FCC concession to run a major radio station? What would have happened if the WP was granted that concession?

      Even before the appearence of the Internet, we the people were concerned and were, in a narrow scope, discussing our opinions with the ones close tu us. Now the scope has widened so much that virtualy anyone with an Internet connection is close enough.

      I find rather arrogant the idea that the new media are killing culture. Does this mean that culture is created an substained by traditional media all alone? What culture is the author talking about? To my understanding, the author pretends that culture is nothing but a bunch of people deprived of options to determine by themselves where the truth lies. Some sort of a matrix where nobody escapes the boundaries of a set of convenient opinions and versoins of the truth that aim to the goals of certain groups of interest.

      The author not only reveals the fear the media workers have. It also reveals a simple and sad fact: they tey do not work for the truth, they just work for an interest chain with deep roots in the struggle for political power an thus, political agendas.

      Agree with you. Please, give us the facts, all sides of a story...let us decide!!!

      Alejandro Izaguirre
  • MSM doesn't like real democracy

    Our culture was destroyed by mass marketing and mass media, a couple generations ago.

    Now the MSM, used to having total control over the political discourse in the country, preaching the talking points of the DNC in unison, is trying everything it can to regain total dominion over its former market-share, and is absolutely terrified of media democracy, and the common American being able to participate fully in the political process.
    • full participation?

      I'd appreciate a full definition and description of what you refer to as the "Common American". College educated? Sorry, that's only 20-something percent of the population. Those who read articles on ZDNet? I'm sure that's fairly skewed in certain age demo's and technological proclivities. Who is the 'common american'?

      Basic participation in the political process constitutes nothing more than VOTING and only a small percentage of eligible Americans manage that, even in a presidential electoral year.

      To say the plague of blogges who call themselves "journalists" is realizing some sort of news and information utopia is completely erroneous. Relying on bloggers for news and information is akin to learning quantum physics from the guy down the street who likes to set things on fire just to see what happens.
    • Absolutely correct!

      The story doesn't even discuss the fact that a great portion of the population is seeking alternative news sources simply because the MSM is so politically biased to the left. Or the fact that the 'traditional' media betrayed us one too many times (thanks, Dan Rather) and cannot be trusted. Internet blogs are, of course, biased as well, but we always know which direction the bias lies. CBS, PBS and the others insist on telling us that they're "fair and balanced" but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that this is simply a lie. And we're tired of those lies.
  • Is there anything worth our interest right now?

    All I have to say is that we have CNN going on constantly at my workplace, and I really couldn't care less about what they decide to report on. I often get the tendency to shoot out the screen. And this book? Could he be more wrong?

    That's all I have to say about that.
    • have you read the book?

      If not, how do you know he's wrong? Based on a single article about one conference? (I haven't read the book either, so I have no opinion on its veracity)

      But the fact you're dismissing it based on this article is a prime example of what he's discussing. Basing an opinion on an entire topic based on a single source instead of expending the energy and time to find out FOR YOURSELF whether his stance or facts are viable is exactly why people are so ignorant, misinformed and easily manipulated.
  • Who needs coward journalists anyway?

    Maybe I speak for myself, but I despise the traditional news. It's all one-sided. It's tipped towards the Liberal lefts who want to redefine America. It's tipped towards the corporations who sponsor it, and the activists who threaten it. I get my news from the Internet now, from people who report THE OTHER SIDE that news don't want to report. Case in point: CBS called me up wanting my story (see and when they found out who the defendants were, they didn't report my story. Just this week a newspaper wrote to me wanting my story, but then they blew it too. Bloggers report the news in the way traditional journalists don't have the guts to. So, why do we need coward journalists who fail to report the news, except according to the biased scale they have to abide by? Like a told the reporter who contacted me, either report the news or don't call yourself a reporter.
  • No Journalists Left!

    It has gotten so bad that some of these corporations are killing stories that are written because it does not fit their political agenda. These so-called network news programs are nothing more than propaganda machines.

    How many programs or newscasts have you seen with content that is highly critical of Hillary Clinton? You may have seen or heard something on Shawn Hannity or Limbaugh but you have heard almost nothing on the network news programs. You can not tell me that no one has any negative content on Hillary Clinton.

    If this is true, then you need to ask yourslef what other kind of stories and content is being cut because it does not look good to the network news corporate masters!
  • Critical thinking needed on all sides

    It takes work to sift through news and figure out what is real and what is tripe. Start by knowing that, regardless of how pretty a blog site looks, the person is just like a neighbor talking over a backyard fence. Unless they can site references that you can check, they may just have an opinion or point of view. Ditto with Hollywood celebs who speak out on this or that. Ditto me.

    Print media is on the ropes, the demographics are killing them and the journalists, who once were minor gods, are being pulled down by entertaining bloggers. But some journalists, like some bloggers, get facts and cite where they got them.Good for them.

    Mommy can't hold your hand and show you what's right and what is crap. You have to cross-check the stories that are important to you and dig to find and verify what is said. It's work.

    Until then, "Don't believe anything you read and only half of what you see."

    Have fun!
  • This New is Better

    Andrew Keen is no gaurdian to our culture- in fact nobody is. His views represent a minority of people who are not comfortable facing difficult questions from a person who maybe younger or less established than himself. But lets face it, today's people have the best ever choice of information to make their own decisions of what is right or wrong. New Media is powerful - so some will abuse it - but the need is to suggest solutons - rather than try to blame users/adopters of blogs/new media.

    Whenever you hear someone who is completely invested and permeated with pro status quo,"mainstream",establishment credentials and interests throwing the SMEAR TERM - CULT,around hold onto your wallet(BS DETECTORS PEGGING THE NEEDLE). The much more insidious force at work in society and culture today is not SLOPPY AMATEURISM cures exist for these ills, it is the all pervaseive MYTH of the HEROIC and SUPRREMACIST PROFESSIONALS who literally believe they are the anointed chosen ones who will save us from ourselves and our backward stupid wrong thinking ways. They like to think that OBJECTIVE MEASURES OF PERFORMANCE and MERIT entitle them to think this way. What they truely are is not brilliant talents useing their gifts and skills to benefit the whole of society, but perfect cowards,conformers,manipulators,self-serving opportunists, technicaly proficient but generally mediocre in consciousness and depth of wisdom. Innovation may be incremental but never Wholistic Leaps of Intuition to Radically New Solutions to our Age Old human problems.