Monday, July 27, 2009...2:52 pm

Publish and be filtered

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After wittering on for ever about why journalism is changing irrevocably, I’ve read two things that make the point much more clearly.

One is a post by Scott Porad on Journalism 2.0 on the relationship between journalism and the I Can Has Cheezburger brand of user-generated humour. The other is a weighty essay by internet pundit Clay Shirky on the danger of imposing classification schemes on web content. 

Scott Porad’s point is that there is a “fundamental shift in the concept of reporting from ‘sourcing’ toward ‘filtering’.”

In times gone by, a lot of the value of a reporter was the ability to dig out sources. Now, there are sources by the million. The value of journalism lies in filtering these to find the most reliable. Tools and techniques to do the filtering will become much more valuable in future (journalists and graduates take note).

The Clay Shirky essay – “Ontology is Overrated” – is a much heavier piece, but there is a similarly clear and relevant lesson in it. 

When you catalogue books in a library, you assign books to slots in a classification system. You need this, because a book is an abject and needs to go on a shelf. 

But the internet has no shelves. Instead, it has a vast wash of content that is impossible to fit into a pre-determined classification system. 

So we have taken to putting content on to the web and letting people assign their own classification tags to it (think Flickr). 

As Shirky says:

In a world where publishing is expensive, the act of publishing is also a statement of quality – the filter comes before the publication. In a world where publishing is cheap, putting something out there says nothing about its quality. It’s what happens after it gets published that matters. If people don’t point to it, other people won’t read it. But the idea that the filtering is after the publishing is incredibly foreign to journalists.

It’s that last sentence that sums up our problems in a nutshell. The web is all about filtering after publishing. Journalists will find their work cut out to keep up with that.

5 Comments

  • Well, isn’t it the case that if you’re a good journalist, blogger, or publisher that you should be able to tell what is fake, real etc? Surely a decent hack should be able to do that – that is afterall what they’re doing in the first place – getting the facts?

    http://www.plenty2say.com

  • I think the point is that, in former days, the role of the journalist was to find and cultivate sources that otherwise their readers would not have access to. It was a privileged, gatekeeper role. It also involved authenticating information at the source before publication.

    Nowadays, however, a vast volume of information is actually available to most people online. The role of the journalist is more to assess and filter this sea of information after it is openly available.

    While this does involve using some similar skills (editing, fact-checking etc), it it much less privileged. It means reassessing the role of journalism in a way that many traditional journalists aren’t comfortable with – so much so that they say it isn’t, actually, “journalism”.

  • I defy any journo to deny that Google Alerts is pure journalistic genius – a way of discovering stories from the billions of information floating out there. The alerts are a way of filtering, I suppose. I can imagine many people set up an alert for their home town, or industry (I do)…

  • Doing a similar thing, Twitterfall looks useful for the social media side.

  • Journalists have even bigger problems than this. As I’m fond of pointing out (and fellow journalists are fond of denying), the reason nobody’s reading trad journalism is that most of what traditional journalists are producing these days is shit:

    http://tinyurl.com/njjmke