Pressing for respect

The Columbia Journalism Review whines, presents itself as a kind of social networking portal in which citizens can essentially “friend” the government–and it frames the ensuing dialogue as one that takes place directly between the people and the government. The press, it suggests by way of omission, need not be part of the exchange. One hopes–hey, one even dares to assume–that the conspicuous absence of the press from Obama’s transparency agenda is due to his conclusion that the democratic vitality of the Fourth Estate is so obvious as to render explanation or elucidation of that fact unnecessary.

Chris Anderson (he of Wired?) replies,

I don’t understand: why should “the press” get any special mention on the Obama website? And by “the press” you mean who: Talking Points Memo, the New York Times, Wonkette? The DC Independent Media Center? Or what?
And really, I’m sorry, this is just dumb: “created the impression that its members were, to him, a buzzing nuisance. Instead of the voice of the people.” When has “the press” ever been the “voice of the people,” and by what institutional arrogance does it CONTINUE to give this role to itself? Perhaps the press would be better off it started seeing itself as a particular category of content producers (a noble, unique and important one to be sure) and drop all this voice of the people foolishness. You might make a better argument about why Obama should mention you on his website.

Jay Rosen begins his comments with Please stop beating up on the techno-utopian strawman. It’s not that useful... and then pulls some of the particulars apart, concluding,

The “calm down digital utopians, let CJR sort the rhetoric from reality” tone is very familiar and we don’t really expect you to quit it, even though it would do you a world of good. What I found new and intriguing about this article is the “direct democracy” thing. I think I have this right: just as the United States is not a direct democracy but a republic, where the principle of self-government is modified by the rule of representatives who distill popular sentiment into wise decisions, so it is in the information sphere: “direct” access to information about the executive branch may appeal to a few digital utopians out there (don’t you wish they would calm down?) but it is not what the United States is about; rather, we need representative access, via the skeptical, curious, unhysterical and professional press, which sorts through the information and asks the wise questions. Do I have that right?
Good luck with that concept. May we see it elaborated, please?

I also like Dave Winer’s construcive critique of .

Bonus link. Another. And another. (Could Blackberry have better product placement anywhere? Ever? Yow.)


  1. Francine hardaway’s avatar

    I’ve already said this on Dave’s blog, but my one problem with is that there’s not enough public input potential. I thought that’s what they wanted.

  2. Mike Warot’s avatar

    No matter what we do, it all boils back down to the economics of attention, signal and noise.

    Direct democracy is a goal I think we all share. Full consensus of everyone on the best way to expend our collective resources is the ideal.

    Actually getting there has proven impossible in the past, due to the economics of attention. There are too many details to be decided, too many factors to weigh, and only so much communication bandwidth to be had, thus any decision is by necessity going to be sub-optimal because we can’t all get our points across, there isn’t ever going to be enough time.

    Legitimate governance requires the broad consent of the Governed. We have our Constitution at the Federal level providing a framework for cooperation between the States and the People. This is an explicit construction, which is complemented by a vast sea of implicit, de facto relationships for getting things done.

    The press doesn’t represent the people, that’s the proper role of our Elected officials. The proper role of the press is to try to filter out all of the details, and find the important ones to gather and synthesize into stories that summarize in a manner which we trust.

    There are far too many reporters thrown at the horse race for the candidates to ever give them all the attention level they want, and they are all after the same basic information, so the level of redundancy goes off the charts… rendering them a buzzing nuisance, even by my estimation.

    If they each had a different focus, different concerns, different questions, things would be different, but as it currently stands, they are merely tokens representing an audience share, to be managed, given a carefully measured amount of time, and them moved past.

    Just as the press is a buzzing nuisance, so are We, the people… there are 305 Million of us according to the Census Bureau… if we each got an equal of a 40 hour work week, we’d get 472 microseconds each… that’s about 1/2000th of a second.

    Obviously that doesn’t work. So the sorting and filtering begins… group concerns into general topics, and answer the frequently asked questions helps. Having aides do the filtering helps. Having the people vote on questions helps.

    The President faces the same problems any blogger with a big audience faces, one of insufficient attention. The scale is different, but the basic problems remain the same.

    We haven’t solved the problem even on the blogger scale, so doing so on the National level is a huge challenge. I do believe that lessons learned transfer both ways, and we should inform each other of things that work.

  3. Jon Garfunkel’s avatar

    What Mike said.

    Also, Megan Garber would have been better off had she waited a day and linked to the AP story: News organizations concerned about access issues at the Obama White House. That’s a story grounded in some relevant narrative, at least.

  4. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Agreed, Mike and Jon.

    Francine, I think their points are relevant to yours.

    There is also a kind of spamming issue. For every hot topic there are interest groups with a habit of getting members to spam the living crap out of the websites, email boxes and postal addresses of every elected representative or bureaucratic system. The FCC, for example, gets inundated with post cards complaining about, say, the DTV conversion or some perceived obscenity on the airwaves.

    I think the Obama administration wants to do the Good and Right things here, and I’m glad to cut them some slack while they figure it out.

    Meanwhile, I think Dave’s modest point about linking outward is a good one.

  5. pacific_waters’s avatar

    “I am in awe of the fact that this country has elected this man, and yet I feel less led by him than inspired to constructive action.” Doesn’t take much to awe you. Why do you have to have an outside agent “inspire” you. Seems more like a failing in you than any inherent virtue of obama. His speeches are full of worn out cliches, vacuous platitudes and empty catchphrases. It may be that obama, et al want to do the right thing but, like it or not, bush did too. As the man said the road to hell… Obama’s has actually said a few things agree with but for the most part he is headed for the muddle headed policies of Europe.

  6. Doc Searls’s avatar

    Dude, it was a wonderful moment in American history, regardless of how it goes next. You think two million people showed up, cheered and cried, because they are cattle?

    Obama is the first president in my lifetime (and it’s been a long one) who hasn’t yet made me cynical. I’m sure he will. Meanwhile, I’m enjoying it. Rock on.

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