Journalism as a Model of Decentralization

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David de Ugarte:

“the blogger is nothing but an incarnation, in the domain of information, of the hacker, the bricoleur. He's the antiprofessional: someone who cannot be contained within the old guild categories created within the decentralised structures dependent on the great media power nodes. The idea of journalism as an activity, as a specific ability requiring specific knowledge, was born with the information industry and is really nothing new. In 1904 Joseph Pulitzer predicted that before the 20th century was over journalism schools would be granted the status of higher education institutions, like law or medical schools. When Pulitzer, a media tycoon, said this, he was expressing the needs of the then nascent decentralised information system, by contrast to the local, scattered structures of the pioneering early American journalism. Pulitzer was thinking within the framework of an industrial business model which required workers specialised in writing copy in the same way as engineers were needed to design stabilising systems. That's why he asked the education system to train them. The time for people like Mark Twain – journalistscumactivists, like the unforgettable editor of the local paper in The Man Who Killed Liberty Valance – was over.

In the 20th century, information followed the decentralised structural pattern characteristic of the communication networks it was based upon. Information was a product, exclusively traded by states and by Citizen Kanes. Those were the times of the Ford T and Taylorism, when the old notion of “professional” was on the wane: “professional” was coming to denote just a specialised form of advanced training in the sciences or the humanities. The idea of a profession as a politicalmoral fact (i.e. to profess) was forgotten, and professions were turned into qualifying guilds.

This is the logic of journalism as a news factory, an irreplaceable and necessary informational mediation. This view generates its own myths: the journalist is no longer an activist but a technician, a necessary mediator upholding the freedom of expression and guaranteeing the collective right to information (“the public's right to know”). These myths conceal an underlying reality: the industrial information system, a classic decentralised system in which in order to be able to publish one's opinions or views of reality one must have a capital equivalent to that required to set up a factory – in the same way as in order to publish a CD or a book one still needs, respectively, a record label and a publishing house. In the model of the decentralised information environment, the media used to be the guard dogs watching over information, which was extracted by professional journalists from reality itself, giving it its first textual form: news. Newspapers thus were the product of a specialised professional activity sprinkled throughout with a series of personal opinions, valuable in that they were supposed to be better informed due to their position in the hierarchy tree. The mythical embodiment of the journalist was the foreign correspondent, a decontextualised gentleman who was sent – to considerable expense – to faraway places where events deemed to be newsworthy took place. The improvement of communication systems hasn't changed or improved the structure of this system, but only increased its immediacy to its highest degree: hence the embeddedjournalist in the Iraq war.

By contrast, in the digital creeper sources appear in a hypertextual way and practically in real time, as they are provided by participants themselves. That's why in the new reticular structure of information the centre of journalism is no longer the writing of copy, the conversion of information from fact into news which used be the purpose of journalists. Rather, what matters now is the selection of sources which are anyway immediately and directly available to the reader.” (