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At a recent conference in the shiny US 'Googleplex' campus, a group "journalism doers and thinkers" (of which there were quite a few) heard Richard Gingras consider eight questions about the way technology could help define the future of journalism and vice versa.
Certainly, his ideas make interesting reading and get to the heart of web content from a journalistic perspective. The statistic that around 75% of traffic to websites now lands on content, rather than home, pages supports Net.Mentor's mantra that "Content is King!" and "Everything Communicates".
From a journalistic perspective, Gingras suggests that editorial roles need to be re-thought in the light of the way news is gathered, organised and presented online and the use of crowd sourcing. I see where he is coming from with this, but I think that while the news gathering process may have altered, the need for a 'traditional' editorial structure is actually made stronger in terms of the filtering process if we are to avoid being swamped with badly written, ill-informed, SEO fodder.
Interestingly Gingras' states very clearly that "it’s important to recognize that while technology has value it has no “values.”" A point well made, but all the more justification for a need for well-developed editorial values to be maintained.
I like his idea that technology not only has a significant role in parsing massive data sets of online information, but asks "Can investigative journalism aggressively leverage computational journalism to not only help with stories but eventually become persistent, automated investigative reports?" In the right journalistic hands, this could prove to be a powerful weapon in bringing the illegal, immoral and unjust into the public spotlight. Equally, taken to a dangerous conclusion, the News of the World hacking scandal could pale into insignificance.
While Gingras' ideas make thought-provoking reading, there is one comment that he makes right at the start which really concerns me. He states "There are no longer the same barriers to publishing: everyone has a printing press, and there are no gatekeepers." No gatekeepers. Really? Not for the first time, I think about Eli Pariser's Ted Talk relating to 'Filter Bubbles'. The fact that gatekeepers very much exist, but are now digital. And, guess what? Google is the biggest digital gatekeeper and content filter of them all.
While I praise Google's apparent desire to help the journalistic world become a better, more automated place, I wonder just how much this conflicts with it's position as one of the biggest digital money earners in the world?
Published 25th April, 2012