Citizen Journalist vs. the Signal-to-Noise Ratio

Sometimes I imagine that online journalism (or maybe “fact and opinion spreading” is a better term) is like a sifter with a whole bunch of screens. I get nothing from the source anymore, the journalist on the scene who was sent to cover a story and wrote about it. I get it from the retweet from a twitter I follow of an account I’ve never heard of, who got it from the same process a dozen times over, who got it from a blog, or an aggregator, who got it from… it goes on.

This information is digested for me as it passes through all of these hands, a process that is kind of like how a newspaper story passes the desks of several editors and proofreaders before it sees print, but with a greater  diversity of opinion, and with much more potential for mischief.

Thinking about these questions, I wonder if the world isn’t just too big to handle psychologically; we have come to accept that we cannot experience all of it, so we rely on the next person (and the next and the next), assuming that somewhere in the chain will be someone who knows firsthand what has happened, someone who will sniff out the irregularities and find the truth of the thing. I have been to China and know that it is there when I am in Canada; the same is true the other way around. But I generally do not need news of the other place quickly, except that which pertains to my immediate life; I am content to wait until it is correct.

I think a central point of this course has been about understanding how people process information, and whether that changes when the information is digital or top-down or produced by an everyday person; I think most people, including me, do not approach information as critically as academics think they do. At some level we acknowledge never being able to know anything ourselves, so we put trust in veneers; we got it from x, so it must be right. We trust x because it is linked to often, because it looks authoritative; we feel like if we know the source, we can trust them to know the story for us.

We trust in layout, tone; if a “citizen journalist” has command of html and the English language, we relax our skepticism. Witness people fooled by Onion stories, when more credible blog posts that happen to be written in green text on a black background are ignored. I’m not sure that signal-to-noise ratio matters in the new journalistic environment as much as the radio being expensive-looking.

I commented on these posts this week:


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