Thinking local: Tools, Information vs. Reporting, Objectivity vs. Accuracy

I am thinking about information vs. reporting, and how communication is power (think about twitter and how intensely it’s becoming the drug of choice for the digital, uh, elite inside the bell jar.)
Richard Sambrook of the BBC made a statement last week helped catalyze some ideas I’ve been thinking about about journalism, blogging, community and sustainability. Richard said (and this is a paraphrase): “In the future, what will matter is not objectivity, but accuracy.” In other words, the idea of reporting as a detached and objective priesthood will fall away, but readers will still want and need accuracy in the information they share.
Another way to look at this is that it’s not only knowledge that is power, it’s the ability to communicate. And how, for those who are not bloggers, do you give them the tools to do so?
I’m thinking about this alot in the context of local and community, in particular.
What are the places where local news, something there isn’t always enough of, in print and on the net(especially on the net) can actually be replace by local information? Where citizens can speak instead of journalists or even bloggers? (Not everyone wants to blog, folks.)
In other words, it is enough for an attendee at the school board meeting to file an account, or do you need a blogger or a journalist to do so? And what tools do each of them need?
To put it another way, when I look at some communities–like parts of Oakland–I see that their needs t communicate what’s happening there-between the locals and to the greater world–just aren’t met by the press. So how could it work in those communities if the goal was to provide more access to tools to spread more information? Would we see social change and improved quality of life? A more cohesive sense of community among particular groups? Between groups?
And how do you support–and teach–accuracy, anyway? Is BlogHer an example of creating vertical niche communities with power? Are there best practices there to transfer to local? Where are the differences?
I am really interested in this question of community, sustainability and value–if you have sites to point to, things you’ve read that will help me better understand information, news, community on a local or groups level, please post in the comments, or send them my way.

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  1. Richard Sambrook says:

    Hi Susan
    Thanks for the mention and good to see you at the conference. What I said was that “evidence” was the important thing. Reporters could say what they wanted if they provided the evidence to support it – and allow the public to agree or disagree. It’s really a call for objective (evidence-led) journalism as opposed to getting tied up in knots over the question of impartiality (absence of bias).
    Accuracy is obviously a big part of this. But I think the distinction between objectivity and impartiality is an important one – and I think a focus on evidence -led journalism is much needed.

  2. Robert says:

    Accuracy and subjectivity are mutually exclusive. If “reporting” is what you are doing, you are being objective.

  3. susan mernit says:

    Richard–thanks for clarifying your talk as focusing on evidence–“Reporters could say what they wanted if they provided the evidence to support it – and allow the public to agree or disagree.” It’s interesting that I misheard to move it closer to this concept I have been thinking about for a while–appreciate the clarification on your views (and the good point you make).
    Amy, I like the idea that a public conversation is another way to share local information–that is completely right.
    Robert, you make a good point, but is all reporting objective? Many would answer no, so where does that leave us?

  4. Amy Gahran says:

    Great post, Susan. I’ve thought about this a great deal as well, since I’m one of the people compiling the citizen media database at the Knight Citizen News Network ( Through that I’ve come to realize that journalism is a process, not a product — and that the tasks and sub-processes that ultimately comprise journalism can be distributed among people who wouldn’t define themselves as journalists or reporters.
    I see this especially happening through discussion forums or e-mail lists, and through comments to blog posts or news stories. You’re right: not everyone wants to blog. However, these tools allow many people to contribute their information or observations to the public discourse. I think of it as a kind of “conversational reporting” where the story is an emergent effect, rather than a coherent narrative package.
    That’s the interesting thing about how news and reporting are evolving: news doesn’t have to look like a packaged story or post. It can emerge from a public conversation.
    – Amy Gahran

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