ICA 2007 Conference
[Theme] Keynotes


Keynote 4:
News, Journalism And The Democratic Potential of Blogging:
From Antagonism To Synergy?

Panel participants:

Participants preparatory texts:

Panel abstract:

This panel aims to discuss how blogging and journalism can develop into new informational and representational practices that advance our democracies. Questions will be raised on the democratic potential of the transformations of journalism(s), through the cross-fertilization of journalism with blogging. Simultaneously this panel will critically address the limitations and restrictions, the struggles and counter-strategies that these democratic innovations have to face, in taking on the more hegemonic articulations of journalist identities and the resulting practices.

Individual abstracts:

The People Formerly Known as the Audience (and the Journalism of the Read-Write Web) / Jay Rosen
When in the eighteenth century the press first appeared on the political stage the people on the other end of it were known as the public. Public opinion and political journalism arose together. But in the age of the ¡°mass¡± media the public got transformed into an audience. The mass media were one way, one-to-many, and ¡°read only.¡± When journalism emerged as a profession it reflected these properties of its underlying platform. But now we have the Web, which is two-way, many-to-many, and 'read-write'. Journalism on the Web will have to adjust to these conditions, but a professionalized press is having trouble with the shift because it still thinks of the people on the other end as an audience. And so it's been the bloggers who have shown the way to a journalism that is not only 'on' but 'of' the Web. This presentation will review these events and draw out their implications for classical notions of press, public opinion and the public sphere.

Institution and media in the digital area: a blog-case analysis / Fausto Colombo
The speech examines the main issues of the changing of journalism in Italy and the links between media, institution and power in the digital age. To show the main critical points of these connections, we build an interpretative frame based on four dimensions: institutional, cultural, economic and technological. The model operates in two directions: on the one hand, it attempts to highlight the plurality of social dimensions active in the development and the operation of media; on the other, it allows to grasp Italian's journalism peculiarities in the blogger age. To understand this issues, the speech presents some reflections about the case of an Italian blogger-journalist, that was able to decode the omissis parts of an American military report about the killing of an Italian secret agent in Iraq. The analysis of mediatic coverage of the case shows the dialectic between two models of journalism: on one hand the vertical, oligopolistic and institutional communication model, on the other hand the reticular, non profit and non professional ones.

Zero Comments: Blogging, the Nihilist Impulse. A Critique of Citizen Journalism / Geert Lovink
The citizen journalism discourse presents itself as an empowering, all-inclusive movement. However, the fast majority of bloggers neither sees itself as a political subject (called 'citizen'), nor has the ambition to become a journalist. The citizen journalism meme was produced by small vanguard of US-American bloggers (the so-called A-list), who, through their competitive knowledge of Internet applications found a way to intervene in the already declining legitimacy of the Western news media. Instead of a radical critique of news manufacturing and public relations, most bloggers used citizen journalism to create a niche market: how do I fit in?
In my theory of blogging I emphasize the inward-looking aspect of diary keeping rather than the media related categories such as 'truth', 'news' or even 'reporting'. Blogging in the post-9/11 period closed the gap between Internet and society. Whereas dot-com suits dreamt of mobbing customers flooding their e-commerce portals, blogs were the actual catalysts that realized worldwide democratization of the Net. As much as democratization means 'engaged citizens', it also implies normalization (as in setting of norms) and banalization. We can't separate these elements and only enjoy the interesting bits.
Blogs bring on decay. Each new blog adds to the fall of the media system that once dominated the twentieth century. What’s declining is the Belief in the Message. That’s the nihilist (nihil = zero) moment and blogs facilitate this culture like no platform has done before. Each new blog entry adds to the slow implosion of our centralized meaning structures. News is consumed as a commodity with entertainment value. Instead of presenting blog entries as mere self promotion, we should interprete them as decadent artifacts that remotely dismantle the broadcast model.

Blogs, Net Neutrality, and the Digital Divide / Gaye Tuchman and Stephen Ostertag
Ultimately, the political and economic context of the media not only influence whom media may reach, but also the routine practice of newsworkers, including bloggers. This paper asks whether blogs can have an impact on democratic practices by helping to reform some contemporary journalistic practices or whether they will be limited by net neutrality and the digital divide.
For the past few years, working journalists and the on-line news editions of the print-media have been adapting some of the practices associated with blogging. They have, for instance, been offering readers the opportunity to contact them. They have made available sites for "posting" and reporters have been posting their own "blogs" on websites associated with their newspapers. Even the august NYTimes.com has offered its readers the chance to question reporters and editors about their practices. The conventional news media have also shown their familiarity with blogs in other ways. Thus, the news media now use blogs as news sources and even provide the opportunity to link with them.
Ultimately, however, the question of the democratic impact of blogs goes beyond changes in routine news practices. Rather, it involves the location of these alternative media in what one might call "the socio-economic structure" of newswork and also how accessible the blogs are not only to the highly educated, but also to citizens who have potentially been frozen out of democracy. That is, to talk about the democratic potential of blogs, we must also speak of the digital divide and net neuatrality and ask how much new forms of journalism can contribute to the political involvement of peoples who are citizens and members of publics in name only.
As Jay Rosen reminds us, the notion of public was initially interactive. Educated white men met in coffee houses to discuss the news of the day and the available political alternatives. Not to notice that the members of this public were also members of an elite is to ignore the distinction between the early European and American democracies and what is today termed democracy - groups within stratified publics who may choose to respond (vote), but who are by-and-large members of audiences, who receive information but can only influence information in a limited way. Contemporary use of the term "audiences" refers to large groups, whose available interactions with news media, programs and programmers include the ability to turn programs on or off, to place telephone calls or to text-message "votes" (as in such popular programs as "American Idol), and in some countries, to buy (or not) the goods and services advertised during a program or between programs.
Although it is foolhardy to predict the future, the potential corporatization of the internet may change audiences into customers, much as the corporatization of universities has changed undergraduates into consumers of advanced academic training. For the probability is that in our era, as in other eras, central institutions will experiences homologous transformations.

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