Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Journalism and Blogging:
The Search for Common Ground

I cannot wait for exams to be over. Since I am too busy with revision/catching-up, I decide to post an article from a fellow blogger to stimulate you all intellectually - Donaldson

by Steve Nadis

UNTIL LAST FALL, Evan Thomas had never looked at a Web log or “blog.” “I knew they were out there; I just couldn’t make myself read them,” says the Newsweek editor and visiting professor at the Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy (Havard University). His patterns — reading The New York Times, New Yorker, and Washington Post — were well entrenched and allowed little time for exploring this alternative media outlet.

Thomas was not alone in ignoring the so-called “blogosphere” — the Internet realm consisting of millions of blogs, including those started by an estimated 8 million bloggers in the United States alone. Sixty-three percent of Internet users, according to a 2005 Pew Foundation study, still don’t read blogs, nor can they define the term — i.e., a Web site that’s like an online journal, typically characterized by daily postings, an archive of past entries, electronic links to other sites, and a reader comment section.

Yet Thomas was also correct in realizing he might be “missing something.” Whether you peruse blogs or not, love them or hate them, there’s no denying their growing presence in the global media market, competing with the press for readers and sometimes coming out ahead. “The top four blogs today have a larger readership on a daily basis than The New York Times,” claims Joe Trippi IOP 2004, an Institute of Politics fellow last fall. Even The New York Times itself proclaimed, in an article by reporter John Schwartz, that “for vivid reporting from the enormous zone of tsunami disaster, it was hard to beat the blogs.”

It’s enough to get observers at places like the Shorenstein Center wondering: How well is the public served by this new communications avenue? And is there some way of ensuring accountability in the anarchic, free-for-all forum of the blogosphere? Those subjects were addressed at a Kennedy School conference, “Blogging, Journalism, and Credibility,” in January, co-sponsored by the Shorenstein Center, Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, and the American Library Association.

Before trying to evaluate the credibility of blogs, it’s worth considering why readers bother with them in the first place and why respected journalists like Andrew Sullivan MPA 1986 (former editor of The New Republic) have switched from the conventional media to the other side. Recent tsunami coverage offers a good example of the power of blogs, with vivid firsthand accounts — in text, pictures, sounds, and video — filed from ravaged coastal zones. Blogs also played a vital role in soliciting and distributing aid for tsunami victims. The disaster — wrote Neil McIntosh in the newsblog of the British paper, The Guardian — may be “remembered as a time when citizen reporting, through the force of its huge army of volunteers...finally found its voice, and delivered in a way the established media simply could not.”

Two years ago, the Iraq War sent people tired of stories about “shock and awe” to blogs in droves, says Trippi. “While the networks showed troops parading around in military vehicles, blogs provided different views of the war than readers had been getting before.”

Blogs offer a daily, partisan voice that has been missing in American journalism, notes Kennedy School Professor Thomas Patterson. “It’s good to have voices coming at things from different lenses and angles, rather than being limited to a top-down media controlled by a few outlets.”

Rebecca MacKinnon, a Berkman fellow this year and Shorenstein fellow last year, left her job as a CNN-TV reporter to become a blogger because she saw the future of journalism in this new form of participatory media. Blogging consists of a dialogue between authors and their audience, which contrasts with the traditional, spoon-fed approach of “here’s what you need to know.” One problem with American TV news, MacKinnon says, is how little of the available information actually makes it into a two-minute story. Worse yet, many important international stories don’t even get two minutes; they’re not covered at all. In addition to providing virtually unlimited space to explore neglected issues, blogs can also provide context on what journalists are reporting and why.

Blogging’s most visible role to date has been in the area of fact-checking, serving as a “truth squad for journalism,” as Shorenstein Director Alex Jones puts it. Bloggers hounded Trent Lott over a racist remark he made that was glossed over by the regular media, keeping the pressure on until Lott resigned his post as Senate majority leader. Dan Rather left his anchor seat at CBS News in the wake of a controversy set off when bloggers, and blog readers, determined that some memos concerning George Bush’s national guard service, presented in a September 2004 broadcast of 60 Minutes, were fraudulent. “Nineteen minutes into Dan Rather’s report, bloggers provided detailed reasoning as to why those documents were fake,” Trippi stated at a Forum last October.

As for the accuracy of blogs themselves, Trippi touts their “self-correcting” nature: When a blogger makes a mistake, he explains, “they have thousands of people immediately criticizing them, and they need to correct it within minutes. That’s something The New York Times can’t do.”

The self-correcting mechanism can work up to a point, says Jones, “but sometimes it’s difficult to tell the truth from the screaming. It’s easy to see this devolving into a cacophony of charges and countercharges.”

Last year, he began thinking about whether bloggers might adopt their own set of standards in order to enhance the accuracy of blog renderings — an idea that led to the January “credibility” symposium attended by dozens of journalists, bloggers, and academics. The event, which was publicized on the Web, set off a firestorm of sorts, as some people complained that few hardcore bloggers were invited, while others resented the notion of Harvard experts and old guard media types trying to regulate them.

“Who the _ _ _ _ are journalists to be lecturing bloggers on credibility and abiding by a set of standards?” PhillipG ranted in the official conference blog.

Virtually every aspect of the conference was contentious, including an open session held on the last day to allow more participants to attend. “Trying to buy off ‘the little people’ won’t give your silly conference, which is chock-full of unqualified people...any more credibility,” wrote someone identified as “No Thanks.”

Even a disclaimer on the conference blog that said, “Just because we link to something doesn’t mean we endorse it,” drew flak. “Wonderful. What a great precedent for a conference on ‘credibility,’” wrote “ahem.”

Other comments were more personal and vicious. “It gave us nonbloggers a chance to see some of the shoot-from-the-hip nastiness that’s part of the blogosphere,” Jones says. Yet once bloggers and journalists sat down at the same table, the conversation became civil and productive. “One thing we learned is that many of the qualities that make blogging valuable, such
as its passion and transparency, are things journalism could readily adapt,” he says. The group made less headway on the credibility problem, which Jones now admits cannot be easily solved. “Any standards will have to come from bloggers themselves.”

That’s unlikely, given the diversity of the international blogging community, notes MacKinnon. “The bottom line is that the public needs to become more critical readers of all the media it consumes, mainstream or otherwise.”

Tension between bloggers and journalists is bound to persist, Jay Rosen of New York University — a former Shorenstein fellow and current blogger — predicted in his keynote address. “Journalists have to get used to bloggers looking over their shoulders.” Both now live in a “shared media space,” and some fighting is inevitable.

But it’s not a “zero-sum game,” says MacKinnon. “The two can coexist.” In fact, journalism and blogging complement each other: The material found in blogs is often raw and unprocessed, whereas newspaper and magazine stories are edited and fact-checked to varying degrees. “Blogs are really a conversation about events and facts that journalists are reporting about,” adds MacKinnon. Very few blogs do original reporting. Lacking the same access to
policymakers as journalists have, bloggers tend more toward analyzing existing news reports.

It’s not really a question of one or the other, blogs versus old-school journalism, Jones wrote in a Los Angeles Times essay. “It’s better to have both.”

Evan Thomas, however, still has “mixed feelings” about blogs. On the one hand, he says, “You can never have too many people in this game. When the conventional media blows it, bloggers can catch it. The downside is that there’s a lot of garbage out there.”

Steve Nadis, a writer based in Cambridge, started his own blog, “Call Me Snake,” http://cambridgeguy.blog.com/, in the course of writing this article, though he fears it may be part of the “garbage” Evan Thomas refers to.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Searching for the Third Gender: Part 2

I have been very busy with my preparations for my exam, thus delay publishing my posts is inevitable. I hope I have not disappointed too many people. I decide to publish this half-written post anyway. I am very convicted to do well academically because of my moral obligation to my parents, their financial committment to our future and most importantly, we believe in bringing out the best of each other. That's what family for, isn't it? I love my parents. BTW, to all fellow Singaporeans at Imperial College (and the UK as well), I would like to wish you all good luck and all the best for your examinations.

The previous post has highlighted that God created only 2 genders, therefore the 3rd gender must be a social extension to categorise people whose gender identities cannot fit the classical description of male or female. This post aims to answer the question "Is strictly classifying people male/female sufficient?" by exploring the feasibility of the third gender in our society.

The third Gender is theologically feasible. Justification for the Third Gender does not lie in Creation, but Free Will. The Third Gender is one of the manifestation of Free Will. There are two levels of Free Will. The first level of Free Will is involuntary choice. Involuntary choice is what we all would deem as natural, because the resultant actions are guided by our body inclination. Breathing is natural. The urge to have sex is natural. The urge to eat is natural. Attraction to somebody is natural as well. All these are involuntary choices that results from the manifestation of Free Will. The second level of Free Will is voluntary choice. The most generic way to describe voluntary choice is that "you can do what you want". This includes choosing whether to take the elevator or walk up the staircase. As much as primary Free Will (involuntary choice) determines that you must eat, the secondary Free Will facilitates you to choose your diet.

Our ideas of gender identity has been built by physical basis of the mode distribution of differences in sexual characteristics throughout history. This idea was chosen not because it is the most comprehensive one, but because it is the most convenient mean of gender differentiation.

In order to extend the gender classification system, we have to build the construct of gender identity on two levels. The primary level is based on this mode distribution. This is in hand with the biblical system because it recognises what God had created. The secondary level, which is determined by social interaction, takes in account of the individual's opinion and society's opinion. The gender identity which we all express spontaneously is in fact the materialisation of the secondary level.

The individual's opinion can be measured easily (eg. the Kinsey's Scale), but society's opinion cannot. Although one can observe the effect of society's opinion of the individual's behavior, it is difficult to quantify the diverse opinions represented in society, because the effect of society's opinion is time-dependent. Perturbation effects must be taken in account for a proper evaluation. It is this tremendous effort needed to overcome the difficulty of measuring society's opinion that makes this comprehensive classification system much less convenient to use. However, we should not carry on imposing gender identities on individuals in the namesake of a liberal civil society. We should not carry on this discrimination.

We shall examine Free Will, Individual's Opinion, Society's Opinion in my next post, in order to extract a more descriptive picture of the Third Gender. Meanwhile, here is a rebuttal to a friend:

"I think most people would agree that males and females think differently, primarily due to social conditioning, but also due to instinctive responces. Faced with dificulty, a male brain is more likely to get excited, and prepare to fight, wheras a female brain is more likely to turn and run. These and other characteristics are not due to social conditioning, and in most cases these characteristics match the genetic and physical make up of the person. each of these characteristics are defined by the hormones present in the body, so surely gender should be determined in terms of hormones. Also it should be noted that males poses varying levels of masculinity due to the ratio's of male to female hormones. Some men will be extremely masculine due to lots of male hormones, wheras some will be more feminine. Yet no man can be completely feminine, due to the presence of some male hormones. Therefore our current clasification of gender implies that the presence of any hormones caused by the male chromosone (Y) defines 'male' and the lack thereof implies 'female'. It would seem that there exists two genders: male and female, but within male there are varying degrees." - Oliver

Oliver's arguement rests on the mode distribution of differences in sexual characteristics as the primary basis of gender differentiation. In fact, he accounts diversity of gender identities with varying degrees of hormonal balance. A recent medical experiment showed that gay men and straight woman showed signs of arousal to male pheromones. Is that due to hormonal imbalance or is it manifestation of primary Free Will? In fact, he ends his arguement with "there exists two genders: male and female, but within male there are varying degrees." The most obvious flaw in this conclusion is that he fails to recognise genetics females are capable of masculine behavior. Free Will (primary or secondary), in no way, hinders females from expressing their masculine side. The arguement of Free Will qualifies better than the arguement of varying hormonal balances.

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News Junkie, Irreverent Blogger, Anarcho-Capitalist, Technologist