June 18, 2005

Cites & Insights June 2005, Blogging, Journalism and Credibility Conference

Walt Crawford's publication Cites & Insights 5:8, June 2005 issue has been out for a while now. I had intended to write about one portion earlier, but I needed to track down some material. There's good stuff about the Broadcast Flag, Wiki's, RSS, and more. But I think I can add particular value to the following portion:

What really happened at the Blogging, Journalism and Credibility Conference? I've read notes and comments from several participants, most of which leave me more confused than ever -- particularly regarding the only reasons I care about the question. That is, why was ALA a cosponsor of this conference, how much did it cost ALA, and what did my professional association get out of it?

What happened at the Blogging, Journalism and Credibility Conference? A bunch of Harvard Berkman Center people, and A-listers, burnished their credentials as Experts On The Hot Topic (and in the run-up, some others got hurt). Very simple. I suspect ALA cosponsored to get a piece of the action. Why not? But further:

Jon Garfunkel posted his thoughts at his Civilities weblog on January 28, 2005 and before (civilities.net). The January 28 posting deals with inclusiveness at the conference (at which Garfunkel was an observer). It's an interesting post, beginning with Garfunkel's assumptions: "[T]he conference was meant to affect only the people that wanted to be affected by it..." "[F]unctional proxies may be more important to diversity than identity proxies. A black woman may not be expected to be able to speak for all black women, but a librarian who speaks for library users should be seen as...credible for that is her job." "[W]hile there are many strands [of] diversity to aim for, some...are more critical than others for [a] given situation." Right up front, I wonder about the example given for the second assumption. Only one librarian/weblogger was at the conference--and she no longer works in a library. Is it truly the job of one librarian to "speak for [all] library users"? Does a journalist speak for all newspaper readers? (Garfunkel's ""Gatekeepers" series has concluded; more on that in a future issue.)

I think the point there was to move away from a certain crudeness in identity politics ("a black woman"), when that is in reality an expression of some desired functionality. It's not that a librarian speaks for library users in an elected-representative sense. But rather that the job of a librarian has advocacy for library users in a certain professional sense. Being e.g. "a black woman", or any political-power minority, is often unfairly loaded with some sort of group interest advocacy, and that's a longstanding political problem.

As to why it's needed:

Mostly, the conference was dominated by bloggers: "What was missing mostly was outsiders -- skeptics of blogs, cultural critics, community activists -- who could consistently and reliably respond to some of the myths and assertions being made." That's the sense I've picked up from all the coverage I've seen. Thus Seth Finkelstein: "I think the issue which some critics are exploring is that the speaker's list, overall, doesn't seem to have anyone who has to struggle for credibility." The "dominant woman," Rebecca Mackinnon, excerpted some comments for a piece in The Nation on March 17, 2005 (www.thenation.com). Reading those comments, I see little to intrigue or interest me, with the possible exception of Karen Schneider's sensible note that many people can't be expected to "recalibrate their BS detectors" for the blog world, as Dan Gillmor presumes they should. Summing up -- I don't know what really happened; ALA hasn't told me why it was worth their sponsorship or money; but I'm sure the privileged few who were invited enjoyed themselves. Good for them.

Well, I can't speak for ALA, but I can try to answer that question - Karen Schneider's rebuttal, live during the conference, was definitely worthwhile. I don't know if I could put a dollar value on it, but in one sense, it was priceless. And showed the value of having outside-the-bubble attendees. Per the WebCred transcript:

I love Dan Gillmor and he talked about today the audience is going to have to do a lot more of the work and it's funny because I come from a lot - from a profession where code of ethics is that the user should have to do a lot less of the work. ...

If I, as a librarian, could assign any homework for today it would be that you go to the Digital Divide Network and read some of what Andy Carvin had to say because I think it's a great reality check to remind yourselves that most people are still not very well-connected, not very well-educated about the internet. As my sister says "What are these globs you keep talking about?" [laughter]

Note those words, "reality check". Something I've said many A-list conference attendees desperately could use. And "the user should have to do a lot less of the work" could be a rallying-cry. And note how it was framed - a profession where [the] code of ethics is. That is, the advocacy here comes out of the profession's ethics, not the circumstances of race or sex.

Perhaps the above was a trivial occurrence. But Z-listers have to settle for small victories.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in webcred | on June 18, 2005 06:06 PM (Infothought permalink)
Seth Finkelstein's Infothought blog (Wikipedia, Google, censorware, and an inside view of net-politics) - Syndicate site (subscribe, RSS)

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Wow, so long ago. Yes, Seth, you are correct, I was trying to stress that occupational identity was not appreciated enough in aiming towards diversity.

What was the conference about, Walt asked? He also should have reviewed the official conference write-up. It was really a learning exercise for most. I think you and I were looking forward to it answering more of the hard questions-- and you expected to be disappointed in this regard.

What's a bit odd is that by writing a 4,000-word summary, which might have been more digestible to Walt than the official writeup, I own a bit of the history now. I am happy that one offshoot of the conference led to the women's blogging conference, though I'm not quite sure they're going to tackle the hard questions either.

Posted by: Jon Garfunkel at June 18, 2005 07:02 PM