Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Transparent government will transform journalism (sorry, newspapers!)

Lately, I’ve been thinking about who is going to use all this wonderful data and information that will become available as Obama’s team works to open the floodgates of transparency and access. Pretty clearly, at least one audience is going to be the bloggers and developers on the web.

Many blogs right now are simply forums to expound on current events. The worst blogs regurgitate the same news that has already been reported a hundred other places; the best blogs add value to the news by providing analysis – sharing their expertise, giving additional context, tying stories together to create a bigger picture, or using raw statistical ability to find insights that others missed.

Then there are the rarest blogs that can actually break news. This might mean having sources like a traditional journalist. It might mean having the tenacity to pursue a story that no one else cared about. It might mean crowd-sourcing an huge mass of work to your audience. But it is a rare blogger that can accomplish any of these things.

That’s about to change.

Eventually, we will reach a day when the transcript of every non-secret meeting is shared online, when every government report is available to the public and reams of data in standardized format are accessible to all. This will be the death blow to the already beleaguered newspaper industry, but it will also be the birth of a new wave of journalism.

I’m not certain that this new journalism will be better or more effective than traditional journalism. But the journalism we have today is not up to the standards of tradition. As budgets get slashed and ad revenue falls, newspapers are cutting their editorial staff and relying on pool services like AP and Reuters for more and more of their content. We’ve seen the trend towards stories which are nothing more than the talking points given to the press. And cable news networks have blurred the line between information and entertainment so thoroughly we needed to create a word for it.

We may be losing the professionals, the people who get paid to do the investigating reporting, but fortunately the solution is just around the corner. The coming wave of transparency and access (and whether Obama makes it happen or not, it’s coming soon) will empower amateurs, bloggers, developers and students to take over the soon-to-be-foreclosed fourth estate.

If you want to read more about this topic, you can get some “future vision” thinking from TechPresident here.

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