In my Nov/Dec copy of CJR there's a discussion of information overload in the Internet age. While the article on how we process web information is available online, the main thesis is only in dead tree form. However, here a few salient sentences:
- There are some stories--and the mortgage crisis is a great example--where until I grasp the whole, I am unable to make sense of any part.
- Too many choices can be burdensome: 'Instead of feeling in control, we feel unable to cope. Freedom of choice becomes a tyranny of choice.'
- 'In a world with vastly more information than we can process, journalists are the most important processors we have.'
As Gandhi said when asked what he thought about Western Civilization, I think it would be a wonderful idea if journalists would help gather disparate pieces of information and put them all together into a broader perspective for us. But the myth of objectivity gives me pause as we all know any human, journo or no, has an agenda and will necessarily change the narrative in ways small or large.
While I'm not sure that Googlezon will ever become reality, it's not clearly a bad thing to have a system that gives me the type of information I want that allows me to draw my own conclusions. Granted, there's confirmation bias to work against me, not to mention information overload, but in light of what the CJR's own article observes about how people skim websites for information that fits their needs, I'm not sure we lose anything with a clever newsclipping approach or some other aggregation mechanism. Give me the unadulterated info and I'll figure out what it means.
With the advent of wikis, it's not like I'd be completely without support if I find myself looking at areas in which I'm not an expert. And when I do have information to share, the wiki becomes a repository of my knowledge as well as the entire collective understanding of a topic--plus it's more self-correcting than any editor or ombudsman would freely admit without a few beers.
In many respects, the time of the journalist is past. They have always put their own biases to work, and have relied on some unique ownership of capital-intensive mechanisms (video cameras, production systems, distribution channels) to give them a monopoly on news and information. But now we all can produce content and get it out to the masses, not to mention put our own spin on events.
What value does a journalist really bring? If they were truly the ideal of an objective vessel of information that provided proper context, then maybe I'd buy the idea that they are necessary. Yet it seems the Columbia Journalism Review is trying to justify giving journalism a higher standing than what a basic commodity deserves.
We all have presses now, which is the ultimate in democratizing information. Not all of what's out there is "good" in the sense of production values, presentation, usability, etc, but the reason the traditional newspapers are failing and we see so many Missing White Women Eaten By Sharks With Fricking Laserbeams stories is that news production has become so easily distributed.
Just as the music and movie industries are struggling with new models, so is the news industry. We're finding that we don't need intermediaries all that much any more--hell, even I can do journalisming--unless they can really add value to the experience. I'm not entirely convinced they can.