Thursday, January 20, 2005

Whither objectivity?

There's a bunch of talk about the death of objectivity going around this week, with such new-media heroes as Dan Gillmor and Steve Yelvington weighing in with thoughts on what might replace it.

My basic response to each of these articles (plus a very good Tim Porter essay at morph) relates to the source credibility idea I've suggested here and in various real-world conversations. What caught me off guard was what appeared to be a general agreement that objectivity was either doomed, foolish impossible.

Objectivity means "Trust Us" in these discussions, and that's a non-starter. It caught me off-guard. Had no one considered the possibility of alternatives? I just sort of expected that other people were having thoughts like mine about open-source fact checking and credibility scoring. Now I'm not so sure.

I don't want to assume that and make big pronouncements. I'm no think-tank guy with a long CV. To be honest, I'm only in this conversation because I had a relatively slow period at work earlier this month and I started researching these issues because I was interested in doing a piece on the wikimedia foundation. Nor am I some webmonkey pioneer. I'm a lapsed blogger (not enough time and no money in it) and what websites I've created have been niche interest, low-tech, content-heavy monstrosities. I'm a newspaper guy (OK, I'm more than JUST that, but you get the point).

But if it's true that we're ready to junk objectivity in favor of something else without even giving it the benefit of the same creative and innovative energy that we've applied to other new-media tools, then duh -- shame on us.

Yes, The Media is a monolithic foe bent on world domination. I get that part. But it is also people like me -- imperfect, well-intentioned, nearly broke and ready to take some chances if they show some chance of leading to something better. We're used to be demonized by the right, sneered at by the academy and called elitist by everyone else. OK. You don't like us. We get it.

But if it takes reporters and editors to defend objectivity as a principle, then OK, I'll do until some of the other guys make it to the party. I believe in what I do, and I believe the new-media tools now arriving on the scene are just what we need to fix what's broken.