There probably is. We’ll probably move on faster because of the destruction. People who are going to invent the new way of doing something aren’t stuck with the old techniques. We don’t simply want, I don’t think, the people who create community websites to be only people who took buyouts in old newsrooms because they’re going to do things fairly conventionally
Some of these skills about how to verify and gather news, how to get things right, how to triple check, how you get spun—some of the knowhow, some of the tradecraft of verification that exists in these old newsrooms has real value. Until you’ve been lied to by a truly skilful liar, you can’t quite know what it’s like. There are lots of people in old newsrooms who have gone through that.
I suppose some would say the average person has gone through that as well, because it’s been disseminated by us when we don’t practice that tradecraft.
Absolutely. And I think that’s the germ of where things begin to be really exciting. If you think about it, how did Google get started? It got started by consumers—two students—saying, “Gee regular search engines are flawed; we think we can do better”
The idea that a very conscious critical consumer of media says, ‘There has got to be better way to marry technology and journalism that is actually more useful than the one that I’ve gotten in the past.’ That I think is what this book is sort of hoping for.
It’s interesting that you talk about a “conscious consumer of media”—you didn’t say it had to be a journalist who comes up with the new journalism. Is that a conscious statement on your part?
I think so. If I were forced to make a bet, my bet would be that the great leaps forwards for news and information are going to come from young people who understand the technology but share and learn the traditional values of verified journalism, or the journalism of verification. Those can be learned. And they can be learned precisely because they came from what citizens needed. They didn’t come from a philosophy text. I do think the key to this is the discerning consumer; certainly that’s who Blur is aimed at—the more conscious and discerning consumerism of information is what Blur is about
Obviously we have the issue of huge amounts of information that is constantly flowing, and there is the challenge of filtering. There is also the fact that things go viral. So there is one element of empowering citizens and also an element of empowering journalists. Are those the two cornerstones? Are there other things we need to sift and filter and process the information that’s coming out?
One cornerstone is empowering citizens and another, as you say, falls on journalists—and a third one is journalists need to listen and engage the audience. They need to see the audience as a community who has something of value.
Another cornerstone of it is numerical literacy. We live in a century where many more of our arguments are statistical because spreadsheets and Excel make the massing of data much faster and easier. To some extent, more of our media sounds like expert witnesses in a trial throwing very complicated data at us to make their arguments
A credulous consumer could say, ‘I couldn’t possibly judge that; it sounds very researchy—it must be true.’ One of the things that’s part of the new consumer, the new citizenship, is asking questions of things that are databased, and not just saying, ‘Well, those are the facts, I move on from there.”
One phrase in the book that really struck me was the concept of “open-minded humility.” I think it’s a pretty powerful phrase. Maybe you want to define what it is?