Monday, October 22, 2007

Planning notes, 10.19.07

INTRODUCTIONS: In the personal introductions, the participants explained their interest in the project and desired topics of exploration: how blogging amplifies on-the-ground narratives; tools to enhance social networks in democratic life and measuring the promises and pitfalls of Web 2.0.; the future of journalism and how blogging impacts politics; how new technologies impact journalism in Europe; the power and responsibility of blogging.

DISCUSSION: One participant asked about the project timeline under consideration. Originally there was talk of several conferences, commencing relatively soon. She sought clarification on this, and suggested that the process might benefit from a second phase of follow up for reflection. She identified her interest in the research question, "Who's blog is it anyway?" Her organization is committed to fostering accountability and transparency.

The clarified schedule was laid out. There will be three conferences, the first in spring 2008 at the Carnegie Council in New York. The second, in fall 2008, will be held at Brown University's Watson Institute in Providence, Rhode Island. The final meeting will occur in London in winter 2008, to be hosted by Demos. The goal of getting more academic ethicists involved in the project was expressed.

Questions arose as to the policy objectives of the project. A participant expressed his mild skepticism at the feasibility of establishing an enforceable code of ethics for the blogosphere. "Who should enforce it?" he asked. Also, he queried how the project agenda will relate to other, ongoing research on the subject.

A participant responded that think tanks are useful because they can influence norms. "Let's remind the public of their ethical obligations so they don't spoil it for others," he said. He reiterated that the public often needs to be reminded of exactly why they should "be good."

The topics were laid out that each contributing organization will tackle. Carnegie Council will look at the responsibilities inherent in business blogs. Watson Institute is covering the ethics of military blogging. Demos will focus on the cultural, social network, and Web 2.0 aspects. A useful output may be a signatory declaration or consolidated code of ethical blogging, to give the project gravity.

It was also noted that legal scholar Cass Sunstein has agreed to contribute. Sunstein's research has identified a tendency toward group polarization, from which blogs are not immune.

A participant sought to re-center the Demos objective by keeping the rhetoric positive (don't spoil it for others). Demos was initially attracted to the relationship with Habermas's ideal speech framework. "Can the blogosphere approximate this ideal?" she wondered. The project should aim to "co-produce" something through links and grow from within, finding a way to incorporate blog users.

Another participant concurred with an earlier claim that the blogosphere is, to some degree, ethics-free. "Ethics and blogging don't go together," he said. He compared blogging to talking with yourself or mumbling at the bus stop, and contended that society has never seen fit to apply ethical considerations to those forms of speech. "Blogging is just chatter," he said.

From that speaker's perspective, the connection between blogging and journalism is a profound mystery. The more interesting questions, he offered, are centered around the fact that journalistic institutions are dying. "Their authenticity, business plans, and ecological rationale are exhausted," he said, and the pressing issue is what will replace them. He offered a description of the media attributed to a former editor of the Los Angeles Times: "Our job is to educate the elite and pacify the masses."

Another partipant replied that, unlike the trend of dying journalism outlined above, journalism of all stripes is on the increase in India. Outlets small and large are popping up all over the place.

It was asked whether the project will look at a particular type of blog—those that deal with politics only.

Another participant asked whether the questions surrounding blogging and the blogosphere are actually new. "Is this any different than how life has always been?" he asked. Consider talk radio, where one host is far to the left and another host is far to the right. Why should we treat blogging as unique? At the heart of the matter for this speaker was the age-old phenomenon of minds gravitating to one another. When this happens, he noted, political discourse suffers.

It was suggested that we may decide that we don't have the grounds for a research agenda at all. Perhaps all we have is the basis for a meta-level critique, or a response to prior codes and legal norms.

A previous speaker stepped in to defend the blogging ethos. Military blogger Blackfive, she said, founded his blog because his friend was killed protecting a journalist. The journalist had never written about the soldier, she said, and Blackfive felt he needed to "get the truth out there." There is a truth-telling aspect to blogging, she insisted. Most are drawn to blogging initially because it provides them with a voice.

An analogy was made to the early days of hacking when hackers were hashing out an ethical code that was eventually diluted when it became a mass phenomenon. Blogging is already a mass phenomenon. We therefore may not be able to reach a single code of rules. Cultural differences also make it difficult.

Someone else spoke in support of the project, saying we cannot avoid ethical questions when looking at where journalism is going. We are producers of content. How can we advance our mission? A demonstration effect (the blog) will set an example in a meta way, bringing out the questions of ethics for other bloggers.

It was affirmed that blogs open space for other voices. But establishing new codes is difficult. The UN has tried to establish a journalistic code and met resistance from journalistic organizations. Who should we bring to the table? We are testing the idea.

The call was concluded with a reminder that blogs are mundane and therefore germane. "Blogs are just websites," asserted one speaker. He asked that the project not get carried away with attempting to broaden the definition. Furthermore, he stated, a conversation about the ethics of blogging is fair game because everything human is subject to ethical reflection.

1 comment:

NewsCat said...

Hey Ethical Bloggers,

I got a suggestion, If I tell you the html code to make your blockquotes look better will you link to my blog? ;-)