Saturday, 9 May 2009

Hackers - not hacks - now required to save journalism

An interesting piece on new journalism and its needs:
It's not news that journalism is in crisis. CNN turned newspapers into first-day fishwrap and Craigslist killed the business model. Solutions are scarce, and our democracy is at risk. I don't have a chart to guide our way through the darkness to Citizenry 2.0, but there are some who can navigate the singularity.

Journalism needs great hackers. Not just nerds, but programmers who care -- about the values of journalism and the power of a free press to hold government accountable. Luckily, hackers are a freedom-minded bunch. The free software movement is rooted in many of the same principals that guide journalism. But news organizations aren't very sexy places to work -- especially now, as layoffs, bankruptcy and closures plague the industry. So how can we bring nerds to the news? One old-skool school is trying.
More here.

Brings me back to my rather declamatory essay, written in good faith nevertheless and at a time when I yearned for support of all kinds, which can be found here and which I quote in full below:
I spent a few years involved with the open source movement and the essay "The Cogwriter" came out of that. I'm not entirely convinced that everything is well with that movement, as I'm not entirely convinced that everything is altogether well with traditional software licences and ecosystems. Nevertheless, here's the essay itself, for what it's worth:

The Cogwriter

The more I read about the web and its possibilities, the more I realise it's not a writer's medium. At least, not yet. A scriptwriter's medium maybe, but not a writer's medium. If, as a writer on the Internet, you wish to participate in anything that stretches, you must accept your place in a machine of cogs. You become a writer of cogs.

You cannot create healthily, or predominantly. You must be prepared, as a scriptwriter must, to be subsumed to a greater good.

You cannot be an individual. You cannot be a thinker who instantly puts pen to paper and produces. Instinctive impulsive art is not machine art. Machine art is laboured and lumbering in its process, even though the result may be delicate, light, dancing. Paradoxically so. Cinema can, for example, dance. Even when built on such intrinsic process.

But most cinema does not dance.

Blogging is a writer's medium, I'll grant you that. But blogging is mainly a text medium anyway, and the tools have become transparent enough for someone who wants to spend most of their time thinking of the words, instead of fighting with the technology, to be able, quite generously, to do so.

Blogging is not really the Internet, though, except inasmuch as it uses the Internet to deliver and connect, to weave and make tapestry. But that tapestry is never more than a trickling of words and occasional pictures.

Cutting edge art on the Internet means technology. It is almost certainly impossible for an individual to be creative and at the same time comfortable with all the technologies that should be used to stretch the medium.

That is one of the purposes of art: to stretch the medium. Art which does not stretch grows flabby.

Possibly it is not really art.

Internet art cannot be art if it does not stretch. Obfuscation is not stretching. Peering through half-lidded eyes does not stretch, but, rather, simply hurts.

Wanting to cut edges with your Internet art is wanting to understand and manipulate many technologies. An Internet writer who wants to cut edges must therefore accept that his role must be a different one. Until the Internet equivalent of the typewriter is invented, we writers will be bent out of shape.

What we writers need, therefore, is to define this machine, require this machine to be invented. (If not, we would have to accept that for the next ten or fifteen years our destiny would lie in being bent out of shape.)

What must this machine do? It must manipulate a wide range of technologies. It must allow a creative individual to create, not fumble about for weeks learning how to carry out an oil change.

In the same way that the typewriter finally gave the invention of printed paper back to the creators, after 400 years of inferiority and oppression, of separation, as indeed did the word-processor in the 20th century, so this writer of cogs I am talking about, this "cogwriter" which I would so dearly love to possess, will, when invented, finally take power away from the doers and give it firmly back to the thinkers.

The "cogwriter" would do two things. It would allow a thinker, a creator, to take a cognisance and offer alternative ways of plastifying it. Then it would make all the cogs behind the ideas (which for technological reasons need to whirr and click) function in a transparent way, an invisible way.

Then the art would be in the thought, not in the act, not in the technical skills.

Before, in other centuries, the technical skills of the artist have played a key role in the art. But the technological challenges of creating on the Internet are so grand that if art is to flower, it will need to reside more in the thought behind it than the technical skills employed. At the moment, it is within everyone's reach and no one's. I cannot progress beyond HTML tables. And yet there are many things I would love to do with this medium.

If the technical skills must remain in the hands of the technician and not the artist, then there must inevitably exist a separation of responsibilities, and therefore a lumbering and dinosaur-like creative process.

I cannot accept that the latter must be the case.

There are other things the "cogwriter" would have to do. Like with the typewriter before it, the creator would not have to worry about standards or software or licences or installations, or interested parties or security breaches or trustworthinesses or politics.

A typewriter is such a clean beast. We need to get back to this level of mental hygiene. A creator cannot create effectively when faced with lawyers and the lawyerly, and those who would wish to impose or shield through the law.

The law is necessary, but essentially is an anti-creative force.

My "cogwriter" would be an enabling device, an environment, a creative meadow. A happy place to be, a safe place to be, a searching place to be, and a devising place to be. A protective and guiding place. A supportive resource, a safely dangerous place to be.

The "cogwriter" would have its own laboratory of tools and glues and idea-cutters. But it would also be capable of looking for other solutions.

The "cogwriter" would be a solution-finder for empowered and empowering artists and creators.

I am waiting.
These days, it's not enough for a writer to understand how to use a pencil and paper. We need to learn how to use blogging tools, content management systems, Photoshop or GIMP - and, even, acquire the ability to conceptualise our needs and demand other structures and technological machineries which allow us to go further than the top-down hierarchies of publisher to author and author to readership made possible in the past or indeed current web relationships permit.

We have to be aware, as news-savvy users and consumers, of all the future opportunities, both conceptual and technical, that exist on the new-ecosystem horizon.

We need to think around our content and understand the future forms that it will take.

Further reading: more ideas on the progressive left, blogging and the new media can be found here from my blog a while ago

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