First it was Stacy Schiff’s “KNOW IT ALL – Can Wikipedia conquer expertise?” in the New Yorker’s issue of 2006-07-31. Then came Nicholas Lemann’s “AMATEUR HOUR – Journalism without journalists” in the issue of 2006-08-07. The New Yorker sent out smart talented writers to get the real story on what’s happening on the Web.
The editors and writers thought they were covering different stories in difference issues, but really they, like the blind men fondling the elephant, were telling the same story about a part of a great beast. Schiff pounded on the side of the elephant and declared it a wall. Sturdy if trembling; what those of us who see more of the animal know is breathing and functioning. Lemann grabs the ear and declared it flimsy without strength or depth. Something this fan-like could not be a challenge to reporters and dedicated professionals.
I do wonder how Lemann could write his article and not mention Dan Gillmour’s book, We the Media: Grassroots Journalism by the People, for the People, nor the Center for Citizen Journalism which is lead by Dan.
Each writer may notice that there is something bigger at play behind the rhetoric of wikipedians and their discontents, behind bloggers and the professional journalists who mutually antagonize each other. Both notice that some sort of revolution or evolution or change is underway. But both have avoided raising this up to a bigger picture, a larger context. Neither see this and more as something that is unrelenting and growing despite the various moral panics that have attended not only blogging and wikipedia but also social networking sites, eBay, Google, Google Book Project, Amazon, and soon I’m sure del.icio.us, technorati, Flickr and YouTube.
So far only terms like Web 2.0, which although I think is unavoidable as a pretty good place holder and has the endurance of a term like ironhorse or horseless carriage as opposed to telephone , are available. I’m not ready to put out a nomination for the term for the changes involved of my choice yet. Not “the former audience.” Maybe “Citizen Journalism” but that is too limited in scope to my thinking. Like “Information Highway” these terms fail to do their job in various ways and will vanish. We do need a way to describe the change, but will our children finally be the ones who give it to the next generation and to the ages or will we do it soon?
Personal note on the Wikipedia story: I was at a conference in DC this Spring and ended up sitting at the same table as Jimbo Wales and Stacy Schiff. I kept trying to remember where I had seen her name or byline. She was pleasant and very sharp and extremely observant. When I got back to my room, I realized that I had read and enjoyed a piece by her about Ben Franklin not long before in the New York Times. I had also read the reviews of her Pulitzer Prize winning biography of Vera [Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov]. I wish I had been a bit better at recall that day. I had a question or two on Franklin in the Wikipedia/Citizen Journalist/eBay/social networks context.