Are we all writers now?

Image from Agile Thoughts
Image from Agile Thoughts

I post this in response to an interesting essay published recently on the More Intelligent Life website by the Economist group. In We are all writers now, Anne Trubek avers,

Yes, we need to darken the line between what is verifiable and what is hearsay. The financial downturn and its disastrous impact on print publishing has led some to think we can do without trained reporters and editors–professionals who know how to check facts and strip the gloss off hasty pronouncements. We need this work, perhaps now more than ever. But not at the expense of silencing the new voices–an exciting new crop of self-possessed scribes–ringing all over our screens. There may be too much, but that does not mean it is unworthy.

Many would agree with me that content aggregated on Kottu today, while more varied than two to three years ago, is qualitatively poorer. Some of it is rank drivel, suggesting that the democratisation of publishing is also, too often, the production of content of very limited value at best. Well written esoteria have their niche audiences, but the proliferation of bad writing questions Trubeck’s assertion that “it is easier to cultivate a wide audience for tossed off thoughts has meant a superfluity of mundane musings, to be sure. But it has also generated a democracy of ideas and quite a few rising stars, whose work we might never have been exposed to were we limited to conventional publishing channels.”

The “few rising stars” are unlikely to become writers solely because of their new media production or blogging. They are more likely to be better educated and better writers, who bring these skills to bear on what they produce online. Trubeck’s assumption is based on this mythic Shakespeare in the boondocks, whose genius is first found and fame spread online. Writers are generally good bloggers. Bloggers are often bad writers.

And while Trubeck correctly points to self-possessed scribes adding to the perspectives of traditional media and other traditional producers of partisan media such as governments and NGOs, it’s also made media literacy much more important than in the analog age. Today’s misinformation and disinformation is hard to discern, easy to believe and a cinch to pass around. While I’ve written about media literacy in a digital age (see Media Literacy and Web 2.0 and Tolerance and the Internet: Scenarios by 2020), my column in the Sunday Leader recently flagged the urgent need for professional journalists as well to learn about what’s possible and desirable with new media.

Trubeck says we need to define more clearly what’s hearsay and fact. True. But how? Digg and its spinoffs, Facebook’s walled garden approach to news generation and dissemination, and my hugely experienced fellow Ashoka News & Knowledge Entrepreneurs for 2008 Fabrice Florin (with News Trust) and Sasa Vucinic (with the Media Development Loan Fund) all offer different models on how to go about this vexed problem.

What’s your take?

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