It’s hazardous these days to launch a new technology conference. Many turn out to be costly failures. But Web 2.0, a gathering in San Francisco organized by former Industry Standard CEO John Battelle, seems to be off to a promising start.
The conference formally begins this afternoon with keynotes by Battelle, Tim O’Reilly, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, and VC kingpin John Doerr. But the morning was filled with workshops, including one I just attended called “Journalism 2005.” It was led by Dan Gillmor – the highly respected technology columnist for the San Jose Mercury News, and author of the recent book We the Media. Dan’s focus was on the way weblogs are changing the world for newsmakers and journalists alike.
For one thing, politicians and CEOs can no longer get away with outrageous or misleading statements that the traditional press might have missed in the past. Nowadays, there’s almost always a blogger around, eager to post outtakes that you’re unlikely to find in the mainstream media. Just look at what happened to Trent Lott after bloggers highlighted his remarks at Strom Thurmond’s now-famous birthday party.
But journalists, too, will have to become more careful. Increasingly, the same sources that journalists use are wide open to the rest of the public: The Pentagon, for example, now posts the complete transcripts of press interviews. (Well, almost complete: Gillmor noted one case in which the DoD removed embarrassing snippets from an interview between Donald Rumsfeld and the Washington Post. The Post highlighted the omission by posting its own transcript!) But the point, as summed up by a self-appointed media watchdog blogger quoted by Gillmor, is this: “We can fact-check your ass.”
Then there’s the whole issue of journalistic blogs. Gillmor’s own blog is widely followed in Silicon Valley. The biggest difference between blogs and traditional journalism, of course, is that bloggers are expected to have their own distinctive, even idiosyncratic point of view; it’s up to the reader to filter material on the blog through the blogger’s world-view. But what does this mean for traditional notions of journalistic “objectivity?” While Gillmor said he believes there’s still an important role for journalsm that attempts to portray issues in an unbiased way, he said that he doesn’t pretend to be objective in his own blog.
What he does attempt to be is fair – acknowledging the other side’s arguments whenever possible. Gillmor said he’s intrigued by the possibility that blogs will give rise to a new kind of journalism, drawing facts and opinions from all directions and presenting them in a way that doesn’t simply reflect the establishmentarian views you’ll see in the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal. Of course, in that new world of competing media streams – some big, some small, some attempting objectivity, others unabashedly biased – it will be incumbent on readers to get their news from a wider variety of sources, Gillmor argued. As he put it: “Anyone who gets their news from a single source – whether it’s a single newspaper or a single TV news show – is a fool, in my opinion. Or least a very shallow person.”
I’ll post more from the conference as events dicate.