A high school student did this terrific independent study, and I just LOVE the questions below that came out of it. Most excellent. Should note, also, as Ben does below, that he worked with a really extraordinary teacher, so I've gotta put a link and a shout-out to that teacher's blog too: Jesse Berrett teaching at San Francisco University High School.
Kudos, y'all! And I may be emailing for the whole document of your research as well. Fascinating stuff. I'm especially fond of the second bullet point below.
Is the “wisdom of crowds” always better than the opinion of one, and if so, how does that wisdom get “mined” on the web?
This bullet point also makes my socks roll up and down too!
Is objectivity in media “a view from nowhere”? In covering any controversial story, the media tends to simply let whoever has been defined as "the sides" dictate their beliefs and just do an "X said, but then Y said" story.
Ben Casnocha: Results of Independent Study on Blogs, Journalism, and Media
From September-December (first semester) I embarked on an academic study on blogging and the intersection of journalism, media, and the 'net through my school's Independent Study program. I thus received academic credit for this work (I know, I was elated too!). My faculty sponsor was Jesse Berrett - he's the chair of our History department but well versed in a broad range of topics including popular culture and internet stuff. As a book critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, Salon, and others on the side, and armed with a handy dandy PhD from Cal, he brought a healthy dose of skeptical perspective I needed. (His own blog is, for now, brief reviews of books he reads - all genres and types - and pictures of his baby. In 2004 he read 254 books, and he reflects on that year of reading here.)
Excerpts from the results of our research and work follows. If you'd like the whole document, email me.
- Do all conversations lead somewhere? How effective are conversations with many talking compared with one person lecturing?
- Is the “wisdom of crowds” always better than the opinion of one, and if so, how does that wisdom get “mined” on the web?
- What process do people go through to change an opinion? Are opinioned-blogs and the ensuing spirited conversations changing anyone’s opinion? How often do blogs (or any conversation for that matter) go beyond “I think this” and “I think this.”
- What role do blogs have besides the obvious one of being a watchdog/critic of mainstream media?
- What is the future of “hyperlocal journalism” where neighbors and community members write local stories in an online format?
- Is objectivity in media “a view from nowhere”? In covering any controversial story, the media tends to simply let whoever has been defined as "the sides" dictate their beliefs and just do an "X said, but then Y said" story.
- What are the limits/constraints of the blogging form versus the future possibilities?
- Does a lack of referees on the web tends to support an everyone-has-his-own-truth world where “truth” is up for grabs? Is it realistic to hope for a higher-up authority to separate truth from fiction either on the web or offline? How does the increasing lack of trust in institutions in America affect this?
Here's another good observation:
There seems to be a “truth” coalescing about blogs in mainstream media, which is that they are usually good watchdogs, but tend to be prey to all sorts of crazy rumors, speculations, and conspiracies. Thus, “the jury is out.” This may not be true, but this is the account that most major papers run whenever there’s a story covering aspects of blogging—a couple good things, a couple bad things. In essence the “they say X, these others say Y” story.
One venture capitalist blogger I read a few days ago said that his bet for the “the next big thing” is around an emerging “architecture of participation” or as he put it, “the revolution of the ants.” Everyone getting into the action. The participatory nature of blogs versus the one-way lecture of mainstream media is crystallized for me every time I read a column in the New York Times or Chronicle that I want to talk to someone about. I may agree or disagree or want to learn more. How can I scratch that itch? I can write a blog post linking to the column with my thoughts and solicit feedback or read others who have blogged about that column.
I like that, "revolution of ants." Granular. Cumulative. Asymmetrical. I just find myself nodding through this whole thing, yes, yes, yes. Vulcan mind meld, dude! I wish I wrote this well when I was in high school.
Blogs At Their Worst
“One of the biggest criticisms of blogs is that so many are self-absorbed tripe. No doubt, most are only interesting only to the writer, plus some family and friends,” writes Dan Gillmor in We the Media. He goes on to say that’s no reason to dismiss the genre, but it does raise an important question: does society need a lot more people voicing opinions or thoughts and does that create more produce intellectual, cultural, moral, etc. progress? I mentioned in the “best” section that my blog gives me a voice. It would be arrogant to argue that my voice needs to be heard, but not that nut-job propaganda-spreading conspiracy-theorist. The leading bloggers and pioneers in this field seem to agree that there should be virtually no restrictions or exclusivity in the blogosphere with a bet being placed on the notion that the best blogs will bubble to the top through links.
Do blogs promote an opinion-first, evidence-later trend in our society? Jay Rosen sees a new trend unrelated to blogs pertaining to information-gathering: first get opinions, then analysis, then hard news. One could extend this trend to people first expressing opinions, then maybe finding some articulate analysis to back up their opinions, and possibly some real data supporting their points. It is easy to blog an opinion or rant. A good footnoter is also a good linker, hence the emphasis by respected bloggers to link to sources or other sites to back up posts. But without some sort of “authority” deciding what has some foundation versus simple crazy rants, the blogesphere can house bundles of unsubstantiated opinions.