We Media

I’m at the We Media confab in London. Will blogging as my battery allows (I’m surrounded by electricity in a BBC studio but there’s none for me).

We Media announces a survey on trust in various media in 10 countries. But the problem is, as David Schlesinger of Reuters said after it was presented, it is a mistake to concentrate on media. It’s absurd to say that you trust or don’t trust an entire medium: Do you trust books? Do you trust British people? These are absurdly broad questions. We all make individual decisions about whom we trust: this network and not that one, this reporter and not that one, this blogger and not that one. That is the real lesson of trust: It is a decision we all make on our own.

Having said that, the results include: In all the countries, 63 percent trust media over 50 percent for government. In Nigeria it’s 84 for media, 34 for government; Egypt 74 for media, 34 for government; USA 59 for media, 67 for government; the UK, 47 for media, 51 for government. Does the media get it accurately? 65 percent overall say yes vs. 51 percent in the US and UK. Do they report all side? 54 percent overall, 32 percent for the UK, 29 percent for the US.

So this sets a tone of dealing with all the old saws: media v. media.

Now Danny Schechter’s knee is jerking: Media consolidation blah blah… Iraq blah blah….

Next Karen Stephenson of Media Center brings out the digital divide spiel.

Next knee to jerk: Someone quotes “the blogosphere” complaining that attention to the blogosphere is too “U.S.-centric.”

Same old stuff.

I thought this conference was called “we media.” We’re all media. Let’s talk, instead, about the possibilities, what to do now. Let’s invent and grow.

Nihal Arthanayake of the BBC says that in this world, everyone is an expert; he’s just a filter. (I prefer to think of it as a recommender.)

: The person who monitors Iraqi blogs for Global Voices says that reading blogs from Iraq has made him trust big media less. David Brain of Edelman says that citizens are now correcting big media.

: At the end, they finally got to the real question: What should we do? Arthanayake says to interact with people and the disenfranchised; Stephenson says all the players must collaborate; Brain says they must enter the dialogue; Schlesinger says to be transparent.

In my role as a “wejay” (think of me as the Simon Cowell of media; Emily Bell, next to me, is hoping to be Paula Abdul and Adam Curry didn’t show), I was supposed to comment on the panel at its end and I said we were hearing the SOS. This is a smart room and what I want to hear is possibilities, ideas, executions.

I told Schlesinger that he was voted through to the next round — he’s going to Hollywood — because he questioned the basis of the question at the start. I acknowledged that I was making an American reference in an international confab. One of the panelists shook his head. There’s a lot of that here. I’m sorry, but I’m not going to apologize for being American.

: Richard Dreyfus the actor is here to speak, God knows why. He stood up to ask a question in the first session. Merrill Brown, the moderator, asked him to identify himself, which I quite enjoyed. Dreyfus then drove down a drone road to nowhere. We’re going to have to listen to him for a half-hour. Hope he has a script.

: Well, what happens if you don’t trust the survey on trust?

A media exec just came up to me shocked at the question that was asked for the survey that yielded the results above: “Please tell me how much you trust each of the following institutions to operate in the best interest of our society.” That’s not at all what we thought we were talking about. We were talking about trust as in credibility.

: Nitin Desai, special advisor to the secretary-general of the UN, talks about the worldwide changes in media and democracy. He sees a real trend in peope taking an active role in democratization. He also says that armed insurrection as a means of regime change generally does not work; street demonstrations do. He argues that even diplomacy is becoming more ground-up. His evidence is conferences and demonstrations. Not sure I buy that.

He argues that the networked society hasn’t changed news much because of ownership concentration. I don’t buy that.

: Mark Thompson, who gave a visionary speech about BBC 2.0 last week, is on the next panel. He says that he sees a change in the culture of the BBC from anxiety over this future to a realization that this new world creates new means for the BBC to fufill its mission.

He says that the old values of journalism — accuracy, et a — are insufficient and we must now add to them the needs to be relevant and responsive and to admit mistakes.

He acknowledges that some media “will not make it.”

And the basis of that will be, I think, whether these media organizations manage to change their cultures to change their products and businesses. That’s what Thompson is trying to do with his speech.

Wadah Khanfar of Al Jazeera says that reporting in his world is a matter of life and death and he makes reference to two bombings of Al Jazeera offices and says he doesn’t know where George Bush ordered this.

Nik Gowing of the BCC asks him whether media is being freed from represssive regimes by Al Jazeera or by the bloggers of Damascus. He says they need Al Jazeera.

: So now we have the World Association of Newspapers on the panel with with Google, whom they think are the enemy (and I think they’re wrong). Google’s Nikesh Arora speaks eloquently on what newspapers must do to unbundle themselves to do what they do best. Timothy Balding of WAN issues the SOS, bragging that a paper in Finland has the biggest blogs (which, of course, misses the point: it’s not the tool, it’s the people). He begs us not to call them dinosaurs. Say yabadabado, Fred.

Later, he raises the important issue of what happens to journalists in nations with a weak press. Today is international press freedom day and he counts the journalists who have been jailed and killed in these nations.

Thompson says that “media is going to be configured and shaped by individuals and communities around them, by them” — no longer by the big media. Amen.

He is saying that the BBC must take its content and let and help people create with it. Amen, again. But, of course, they also need to enable those people to create and promote and support them. We’re all in this together.

Mark Glaser asks the panel whether big media is just exploiting citizens’ media. Thompson says it is a “consumer driven, democratic media world and if we are useful and what we provide is valued” then big media will survive. He’s saying that the power is already shifting; he’s begging, I think, for citizens to exploit him.

Amazingly, Google’s Arora says that big media organizations need to be concerned about the impact of using content from the people on their brands. Can you believe that Google is saying that — Google, which has built its brand soley on incorporating content from elsewhere?

A man from the room says one cannot edit without an agenda and he asks what is the BBC’s agenda other than ‘you are right and we are wrong.’ The BBC is caught in the same bind as old American papers — believing in objectivity and impartiality. That doesn’t mesh with transparency, I’m afraid; that, too, needs reexamination.

Gowing has cast this entire panel as top-down v. bottom-up and it’s a right construct for the discussion: It’s about lowering the barrier for the bottom and raising its power so it’s not the bottom anymore:
* How do we lower the barrier not just to street demonstrations and media attention but to government itself?
* How do we change the culture of these media organizations at the bottom to open them up and change and grow?
* How do we truly enable the people out there to create and distribute and report?

: And now, after a dainty and fashionable lunch of couscous in little bowls, we have Richard Dreyfuss on stage. The applause for him was also dainty. He complained as he came up on stage that you’re supposed to keep applauding.

He starts saying that he was shocked that in a prior discussion about business no one said that news — TV news, it seems — “was never meant to make money.” Huh? How the hell do you expect news to be supported?

He says he is part of a research project at Oxford on the creation of curriculum for teaching civics: “reason, logic, debate, and civility.”

He laments the speed of news. Before technology, he says, we had time for “rumination, contemplation, patience, and simply thinking things through…. Do we suppport patience? Do we support reason? Or, is it ok to just let these things happen by chance…. I applaud the technology that leads us here.” He says he does not applaud the “blindness” to the “damage that technology can do… The technology is demanding that we rethink how to think.” He calls this “a clock, a gun on our culture… We have been through two wars and killed an enormous amount of people and we are still unclear about who we were at war with… I am not speaking as a liberal…. I am not a liberal and not a Democrat.”

He is arguing that we see the towers fall and then can act immediately now. He is arguing that time led to reason. “This technology can lead us to fatal conclusions without the time to change our minds.” Well, I’ll say, information also leads to reason. Communication leads to reason.

He says we don’t want civility. He says we have replaced civility with melodrama. Well, since Jon Stewart got rid of Crossfire….

“For 100 years after the Civil War,” he says, “it was perfectly acceptalbe in America to pull over to the side of the road and kill any black person you happened to see.” What the….? Is that in the civics course?

“If you equate news and entertainment, you will become Fox News…. Reason can’t be sceamed,” he says.

Another: “There is no such thing in America as national security but we act as if there is.” He says such phrases are from Alice in Wonderland. “We agree on the war on terror. This is not something any of us should agree to.”

Why is this screed here? Got me.

: Now there’s a panel on citizen journalism and Paul Holmes of Reuters asks Rachel North, a 7/7 witness and survivor who started a blog why. She said that after the event, she had to tell the tale. I understand that compulsion. She said it was “born out of the need to tell the truth… in the original definition of being a citizen.” It’s about telling stories from people. Holmes asks her, “Do you actually want the mainstream media to embrace?”

George Brock of The Times of London says that her work was “newsworthy” and he says that journalists must embrace people who want to tell stories but he still made some separation between “communication and journalism.” He later says that “one of the reasons they go to news is so they don’t have to ask, ‘Is this true?’ ” He sounds like an American editor. And that is not a compliment. But he does say later that being corrected by bloggers in pajamas is a wonderful thing.

David Gyimah, a video journalist teaching others the skill now, likens the current landscape to an army: Citizens are recruited and suddenly they are professionals. Citizens are recruiting themselves to journalism, I’d say.

Bertrand Pecquerie of the World Editors Forum, bring up his favorite hobby horse in the Eason Jordan story. “What we have seen in the blogosphere in America is the worst.” Oh, boy. The BBC’s Boaden complains that there is “steamrolling” in the blogosphere. Brock says CNN lost its nerve. Holmes, to his credit, adds that a problem of this story was that the transcript of what Jordan said was never released. Transparency is the key to credibility now.