It’s been hard to

think about much else other than the tragedy that has unfolded in the

wake of Hurricane Katrina. I’ve just been following the blogs. I put my

trust in the many blogs that are from every day citizens. I look on all

the evolving ones from the media with some skepticism. Many of those

are informational only from that media’s perspective. Usually comment

features are not included. We need give and take, back and forth

communications so we can develop relationships that work better than

the top down mentality we currently have. I am weary of rhetoric from

our political parties. I wonder if events like these will be the

catalyst to help us understand how stories from many can help us

develop the wisdom to trust and begin to understand that we must

change. To me, it is not a question of whether bloggers are

journalists. Somehow that is not relevant. Maybe this can be the

toppling of how we look at journalism, if that is what we want to call

it. I like to think of it as communications from the people –

authentic, real and a phenomenon that we are just beginning to

understand.  Will it be heeded? Will we start to trust and respect

the building communities? We need more from the people. The voices need

to be heard.  We need much more from our current administration.

We need more voices from our educators. We need to get our student

voices in the mix. Sometimes I feel real hope but I have to say at the

same time I feel fear that we won’t learn from all this. There is so

much to sift through and it is really hard to know and understand what

is true and what is not.  This post, “Rambling About Katrina” offers more food for thought….

Rambling About Katrina and Citizen Journalism

One of the recurring themes that’s been going around and that’s been intensified by the Hurricane Katrina coverage is

the concept of citizen journalism.

This is the idea that regular folks (*gasp*) can inform the public

debate and populate the shared information space by using blogs, photos

and other forms of digital media (including audio and video).

Before the Web, citizen journalism existed, but was largely the stuff

of newsletters,  grassroots advocacy action alerts and letters

to the editor.  Big media
incorporated it, but mostly as a supplement to regular coverage –“man on the street” interviews, call-in shows, and the like.

The emergence of the Web, with its lower technological and economic barriers to entry, has turned the traditional content model upside-down. (Or at least sideways.)

Now, it can be tempting to dive into the metaphor of the big old-media dinosaur fighting a losing battle against the small, fast new-media mammal…though

I think it’s a pretty safe bet that the future lies in some sort of

convergence between the two, with big media adapting by bringing to

bear its ability to bring in eyeballs and advertising dollars.

Anyway, because there are so many individual voices involved, one of the main challenges with citizen journalism is figuring out how to

get particular voices heard; at one end of the spectrum is a centralized, top-down model,

where a traditional media presence acts like an editorial filter to

direct the conversation and to focus people’s attention on a particular

item.

At the other end is a kind of controlled chaos,

where there’s no distinct centralized authority, when people rely on

technology and a shared set of norms to self-regulate what goes in and

what rises to the top.

Keep in mind, no matter

where you go on the spectrum, we rely heavily on technology to help

filter the noise, pick out nodes of interest, spot trends and all that

good stuff.

Now, at the risk of getting too attached to

a particular metaphor, think of a football stadium full of people: If you step back and try to take it all in, most of the time you get a dull roar.

However, if you have the right tools, you can zoom in to hear what a

particular group, or maybe even an individual, is saying. Also, every

once in a while, a synchronized chant will spontaneously self-organize. Sometimes, there’s a marching band. And every once in a while, a streaker will run out onto the field. (Let’s ignore the riots for now.)

Okay, that’s a silly metaphor — I’ll leave you to think about which part means what (I’m not quite sure myself).

What does all this mean? For now, it

means keeping track of efforts ‘both big and small’ to harness the power

of thousands and millions of voices on the Web.

Joe, the AOL employee who programs the AOL Journals main page wrote this and there’s more to read at his post.

I’m all for the kind of controlled chaos. I’m thinking back to my brain

studies and how we learn – out of chaos comes order. It’s also thinking

about why education must change. As the Caines conclude, “ The

change involves everyone, and as yet (or perhaps never again) no one

has the exact answers. The world we are entering is one of multiple

answers and infinite possibilities. It looks “messy” and trial and

error is essential. But we must learn how to live in that world. Because

our children have no choice.”

So

I’m going to keep on keeping track of efforts, both big and small and

feel hope that all these voices will make a difference. Ours

included….