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?
For me that’s a very important concept. What we’re trying to get at with that is that you come to your life as citizen with a sense of wonder, with a sense that ‘I’d like to learn more. I don’t know the answers and my preconceptions are only hypotheses of what the real answer might be.’ And that requires both the humility to think I might be wrong and an open-mindedness to say people who I think I disagree with might have something I can learn from …
There’s an element of that that can be very helpful for journalists to internalize as well. Humility seems to be something in general that perhaps we can benefit from on a larger scale.
That was the genius of Homer Bigart, who had been a reporter who’d covered everything; he was the most experienced reporter in Vietnam, but he acted as if he knew the least. That’s what we called his “portable ignorance.” He would say ‘Hmmm, interesting, prove that to me. Can you do that?’ Which also involves being wiling to look stupid
It reminds me of Jay Rosen’s talk of ’the church of the savvy.’ There seems to be something about us in the press—particularly the political press—where you always to show that you know what’s going on, that you’re in and you have the scoop. Admitting that you don’t know about something is almost admitting to a weakness in front of your fellow journalists.
Right. Whereas it can be the most powerful and liberating way of doing this, of going about this
I think that ultimately this book as I imagine it—and I hope it comes across—this book is fundamentally optimistic. As we say in the last chapter, and in the epilogue, we think we have the potential and the capacity for a far superior journalism in this more open system than we ever had with the old