Digital rupture and consolidation will not come without forceps
Nov 17, 2013
Digital journalism requires a radical metamorphosis to adapt to a new era of information, embracing dynamic sources and shedding the pursuit of absolute truth.
The world is nostalgic. The songs of your adolescence were better than today's; in your day, the parties were cooler and football 30 years ago was more fun than it is today. We are carbon robots programmed for nostalgia. The current moment in journalism evokes the same nostalgia. But in reality, all the ills of today's journalism are errors of interpretation, not incapabilities. Standing still admiring aged photographs will only make it harder to decode the new moment in journalism.
A maxim of 20th-century journalism insisted on trying to delimit the "facts" as a philosophical entity that corresponds to absolute truth. The pursuit of journalistic impartiality is a post-positivist journey that depends, more than anything, on self-deception based on the acceptance of the possibility of isolating the "fact" as an immutable and unique body. Just like the Apology to Socrates, one of the fundamental texts of Western philosophy, journalistic questions are embraced by the journalist's point of view in an insoluble way. This does not mean that the investigation can be invalidated - it means that the investigation needs to be done with knowledge of its own limits. And in a world where distance has disappeared, taking with it the periodic cycles of news, no journalist or publication will regain the serenity of Plato when he listened to Socratic reflections.
The obsession with the shaping of the fact is the first factor that the new environment needs to rebuild. The impossibility of omnipresence fractures any attempt at inflexibility. The investigation, in reality, has become a process that must begin before the event, however paradoxical that may sound. The work of the journalist, journalism, and publications begins at the moment everyone prepares for the event by establishing credible and dynamic enough information sources that they can be activated at any time and producing a result whose level of reliability is known beforehand.
Today's journalist needs to establish credible sources and create processes to infer narratives that arise from them, always bearing in mind that each of these processes comes with the mark of these sources. Information curation is not new (in a way, Plato was already doing this and there are not many questioners of the validity of the dialogues and letters of the Greek philosopher who certainly imbued Socrates' words with assertions that he, Plato, saw as sensible.
The curator, once identified (another reason why apocryphal journalism loses strength within this framework, except for rare exceptions), receives from his audience a vote of confidence related to the investigation and integrity of the sources. Streamings of information from social networks are valid sources, provided they are subjected to processes that minimize the possibility of "contamination" with involved points of view. The moment a bombshell news breaks is followed by a whirlwind of disordered information. Interestingly, this chaotic mass makes it necessary to consider all possible sources - including the known unreliable ones - because amid this chaos may be fundamental parts of the story.
It is precisely because of this confusing puzzle, which mixes analysis, intuition, general culture, knowledge of the subject and a vast repertoire of sources for each occasion, that the role of the journalist is far from unnecessary. The unnecessary journalist is the one accustomed to the previous scenario. The journalist with deadlines, time, official and unofficial sources, and who always played it safe by putting the information in someone's mouth, leaves the scene; the journalist who understands that there is no closed matter, who does not work with statements from the sources, but with the result of their combination, who does not assert absolute truths and who - more important than anything - is not afraid to put his reasoning at stake, enters the scene. Pure mathematics leaves, chess enters; Cartesian reasoning leaves, design thinking enters.
Journalism and the journalist are far from over, but they need to shed their skin, undergo a more radical metamorphosis than any previous one. One thing seems certain to affirm: at a time when anyone thinks they can be a journalist, the reality is exactly the opposite. The false sensation is caused by a market that overwhelmingly operates with the values of the old regime, but on new bases. This is an extremely dangerous combination, as can be seen in any recent digital coverage, from the Boston bombings to the utopian schizofascist activism of Mídia Ninja, where epic moments stumbled on gross errors. The new digital journalism should emerge from 'marginal' ventures like those of the Guardian and its open journalism, from technology companies, from agile start-ups like velociraptors, much more than from the brontosaurs that reigned in the 20th century. The transition, all indications are, will be traumatic, but rarely are transitions of this size not.