What he says

In the comments below, Howard Owens responds to the LA Times in the conversation started by its editorial about GoogleNews new comment feature. Jon Healey of the Times worried that flacks and spinsters will use Google to flack and spin without reporters there to filter it. Howard advises:

I don’t think you get it, Mr. Healey.

Let’s say company X stonewalls, and then comments as you say … well, why do you think that ends the conversation. Company X just made news by their comments, not matter how untruthful. Your story just got better. The reporter goes and writes a story about the comments and debunks them. More truth is illuminated. Readers are better informed, and they have a clearer picture of who company x really is.

This is better journalism. This is better civics.

Google is HELPING you. And us. If it works (and I’m not sure it will, but I appreciate the effort).

One of the main things that really bugged me about the LAT piece, and I still don’t think you get based on the above, is that you think readers are not smart enough. That’s the common journalistic hubris. If we aren’t there to guide readers and make sure their information is properly filtered and balanced, they won’t really be able to figure out things on their own and separate fact from spin, etc.

But, how good has journalism done at that over the past couple of decades anyway?

First, readers are smarter than most journalists give them credit for; Second, thanks to blogs and such, they’re getting smarter. The thing about the new information economy is we all have to be smarter, and that’s happening, because we’re largely on our own for filtering news and opinion. I, for one, thing that’s a good thing. It’s actually BETTER for democracy.

Sometime you might want to walk across the hall and have a long conversation with Matt Welch about all this. It would help a lot.

I emailed Matt — one of the first people to teach me how blogs and links and the distributed conversation work, back in the day — in the midst of all this when I wanted to see whether my take on the editorial was wrong. Matt was just returning from book leave (he’s about to come out with a book on John McCain) just as this kerfuffle was fuffling. But he did tell me that the Times is about to enable response on the opinion pieces his department produces. The bigger question, I think, is how to link a paper and its journalism into the larger distributed conversation in comments, links in outside blogs, and responses at GoogleNews. If someone responds anywhere, as Howard points out, the reporter should be ready to jump on that and do what reporters do: add journalism.