Voicing Their Opinion…

Went to NYU’s Center for Communication for a talk inappropriately named ‘Voicing Your Opinion’. Should have been entitled ‘Voicing Their Opinion’. The one blogger and activist invited, Matt Stoller, didn’t show, and the rest of the panel consisted of traditional journalists, at length praising the value of having op-ed columnists, pundits, various spokespersons and officials, and the like populating op-ed pages (on paper or pixels) and going through the motions of a debate they have nothing but their vanity and maybe the difference between a well-paid and an excessively well-paid job at stake in.

Don’t get me wrong, both the speakers and the people they praise are smart. But when Tunku Varadarajan, former op-ed page editor from the Wall Street Journal could simply note in a side-comment that the Journal only prints 2-3 of the 1000-2000 unsolicited letters it receives every week without anyone in the panel reacting or considering even for a second what that says about what the event description called “a powerful forum for public discourse”, you begin to wonder. Perhaps the copy editor just garbled a sentence that should have read “A forum for publicized discourse between powerful people”? Ongoing research of my own suggests something akin to a 1:4 ratio of formal representatives relative to citizens on the letters pages of Danish papers, the Journal, if Varadarajan is right, has something akin to a 23:1 or 35:1 ratio between solicited and unsolicited letters. No big surprise, perhaps, but still, that’s some forum.

Most of the kind comments the panel had to offer for participatory media (they be citizen’s use of new or old media) where defined by a classic journalistic instinct to insist on the professionals’ right to define not only the terms of the conversation, but also the topic, length, and just about everything else you can come to think of. So for these, and, it seems fair to speculate, many other employees at prestigious news outlets, participation is good insofar as it supplements journalism as it is – if it aims to make a difference, effect a change, then it is out of order. Mainstream professional journalism has grown comfortable with ‘news you can use’, probably because it maintains the sender/receiver separation that their profession is based on, but still seems oblivious to the idea of ‘media you can use’.

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