Jeneane Sessum rocks – Why Journalism Matters

We become part of the stories we discuss on our blogs. We mold, change, and affect the public’s perception of the people, places and events we talk about, via Google’s lasting, aggregating lens.

More and more evidence points to Jeneane Sessum being unfairly connected to the matters I posted about yesterday and her good name has been drug through the mud. That mud leaving trails all over Google.

As Jeneane says:

There are layers and layers of important issues that intelligent people can tackle and use to make meaning out of this. I hope that effort moves forward.

Me too.

So while folks are discussing the code of conduct suggestions over at Tim O’Reilly’s, I’d like to remind folks of The Citizen News Network and Center for Citizen Media project – Principles of Citizen Journalism, and think about that first principal – Accuracy – before passing on information that isn’t proven again.

As Scott Karp says, this entire episode illustrates “Why Journalism Matters”:

I have been watching in silent horror for days as this drama has unfolded – horror not only at Kathy Sierra’s traumatization, but over the total unrestrained free-for-all in the blogosphere. This is a case study in hearsay, innuendo, rumor, defamation, libel, jumping to conclusions and every other negative consequence of unrestrained publishing that the principles of journalism are intended to prevent, and notwithstanding some notable failures, generally do prevent when applied with some seriousness of purpose.

I read dozens of blog posts on this incident, and I still had NO CLUE who might or might not be guilty of what. Each new post I read tangled the web further, layering misinformation on top of disinformation. There was precious little “WHAT do I know” and a whole lot of “WHO do I know and how do I feel about them.”

Then I read this article by a JOURNALIST at the San Francisco Chronicle. I can’t say for sure whether all of the fact here are straight, but this is the only place I came across that actually attempted to ascertain through a coherent process what the facts might be or to lay out a coherent sequence of events. AND, you’ll notice that the only names of those (alleged) to be directly involved in the incident that the article mentions are Chris Locke and Kathy Sierra, both of whom the journalist interviewed and quoted. In the blogosphere, naming names was all about shoot first and ask questions latter.

Update: Anyone can commit acts of journalism. With this story, the fact is, few of us actually did. And the consequences are no good for anyone.

Update: There should be a “Clay Shirky rule” for social software discussion threads…

First person to make a connection to a Clay Shirky piece gets props or insults or something like that….

I bring this up because so much of this series of events recalls an old Clay Shirky piece worth revisiting: “A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy”:

…We’ve had social software for 40 years at most, dated from the Plato BBS system, and we’ve only had 10 years or so of widespread availability, so we’re just finding out what works. We’re still learning how to make these kinds of things.

Now, software that supports group interaction is a fundamentally unsatisfying definition in many ways, because it doesn’t point to a specific class of technology. If you look at email, it obviously supports social patterns, but it can also support a broadcast pattern. If I’m a spammer, I’m going to mail things out to a million people, but they’re not going to be talking to one another, and I’m not going to be talking to them — spam is email, but it isn’t social. If I’m mailing you, and you’re mailing me back, we’re having point-to-point and two-way conversation, but not one that creates group dynamics.

So email doesn’t necessarily support social patterns, group patterns, although it can. Ditto a weblog. If I’m Glenn Reynolds, and I’m publishing something with Comments Off and reaching a million users a month, that’s really broadcast. It’s interesting that I can do it as a single individual, but the pattern is closer to MSNBC than it is to a conversation. If it’s a cluster of half a dozen LiveJournal users, on the other hand, talking about their lives with one another, that’s social. So, again, weblogs are not necessarily social, although they can support social patterns.

Nevertheless, I think that definition is the right one, because it recognizes the fundamentally social nature of the problem. Groups are a run-time effect. You cannot specify in advance what the group will do, and so you can’t substantiate in software everything you expect to have happen.

Now, there’s a large body of literature saying “We built this software, a group came and used it, and they began to exhibit behaviors that surprised us enormously, so we’ve gone and documented these behaviors.” Over and over and over again this pattern comes up. (I hear Stewart [Brand, of the WELL] laughing.) The WELL is one of those places where this pattern came up over and over again.

Well worth reading if you never have, or re-reading if you did a long time ago.

2 thoughts on “Jeneane Sessum rocks – Why Journalism Matters

  1. While I’m very sorry about the mob mentality that ensued after my post — and primarily by people who never took the time to actually read it, but just reacted, my reason for bringing Jeneane into this is that she continued to endorse the meankids site *even after she knew that a potential death threat had been posted.*

    This was not simply guilt-by-unknowing-association, which would definitely be unfair. I posted because Jeneane KNEW what was up there and chose to continue recommending meankids on her blog with the “meankids YAY!!!” post. She continued to post to her blog even *after* I told her what was going wrong on meankids, that I was terrified, and that one post was a potential death threat. She had time to decouple herself from this by–at the least–not recommending the site. But she continued to send trusting readers to a site despite knowing they’d find threatening and misogynistic content.

    It’s not a crime. I never said her involvement was a crime. I said I don’t want to be part of a culture with this kind of hypocrisy.

  2. Hi Kathy,

    I’m not going to question your right to feel what you felt and to share it. Or to feel that someone shouldn’t recommend something that they find sometimes repugnant (note – I link to Howard Stern and numerous folks I find sometimes very, very wrong – but that doesn’t mean I support *everything* about them – far from it ) – especially if it was a concern among friends. And yes, you never said she committed an actual crime.

    I do think it’s dangerous to conflate the threats with ‘support’ (again – I think a few links does not mean an endorsement of anything) for an environment in which they occurred. But then again – I wasn’t walking in your shoes.

    But I digress – this post was focussed on what *followed* your post – there was a lot of us – me included – that attempted to retell the story of what happened to you and all involved – and not so involved – from our personal perspectives. As bloggers. As people.

    Dialog is a great thing. And there’s been some terrific dialog taking place. About cyberstalking. Sexism. The environment we care to be creating for all of us to co-exist. Freedom. Expression. Art and fear. Hopefully this dialog continues.

    Taking a look at some of the fallout, the traces we left – well you agree that the mob that sprung up wasn’t in your’s or anyone’s interests – or that it served the interest of truth.

    What is the truth as far as you are concerned? As far as Jeneane is concerned? As far as the law is concerned. As far as what is collectively rendered on Google is concerned?

    We are *all* weaving it. Some of us with more influence then others..

    I just checked – I’m on the first page search results for ‘Jeneane Sessum’ on Google!

    I have influence over the public’s perception of her via Google – at least temporarily.

    I am no expert on her. One post does not make me so. I do not know her beyond some writing on the web. Nor do I know you except for some books and your blog.

    I think our collective network effect is something that none of us understand yet – it has so much potential for good (I’m an optimist at heart and I believe this) – but likewise for ill – mirroring our human natures – with some kind of megaphone.

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