This week, Infobitt will welcome thousands of new members (people waitlisted following my Reddit AMA). So, in the coming days, I’ll be sharing a different reason why the world desperately needs Infobitt.
Reason #1. We have a right to edit the news. We have a voice in government—we also deserve a role in the Fourth Estate, one we don’t currently enjoy. We desperately need a way to make our voices heard about how the news is prioritized and presented.
There’s no reason for journalists to be the sole or primary deciders of what we all should know.
Journalists—and I say this with respect for my several friends who are journalists—are experts at some important functions:
• Knowing where and how to find the most important stories of the day.
• Writing quickly and yet readably.
• Forming trusting relationships with newsmakers.
• Summing up the basic facts about a complex situation fairly accurately from scratch (this looks easy but is extremely difficult, and journalists are a whole lot better at it than most of us would be, if we tried).
Journalists serve a crucial and deservedly respected function in society. But they’re not any better than other reasonably intelligent, well-informed people at:
• Forming a wise judgment about what the most important stories of the day are.
• Understanding what the hell is going on (there are great reporters who are experts in some things, but most of them aren’t anything like experts on what they normally report about).
• Telling you what to think about the news.
• Avoiding bias and corruption in articulating the news.
As reporters of basic and important news, journalists serve an absolutely crucial role in society. But as news presenters and editors, journalists enjoy certain roles that also properly belong to us—to “we, the people.”
Simply having reported on some parts of the news doesn’t give a journalist an expert perspective on the whole of the news. There’s no such thing as an expert perspective on something so vast—”the whole of the news.” NBC anchor Brian Williams (just for example) is no better a picker of the top stories than any reasonably intelligent, well-informed person presented with the same breadth of stories. And the idiosyncratic judgment of Mr. Williams and his producers is certainly not better than the average of all of our choices.
Deciding which stories matter and deserve to be placed first is a deeply political one. That decision does not deserve to be made by elites handing down the truth to us lowly plebeians. Top journalists in particular are very powerful: they shape how society thinks about what’s going on. They can drive political agendas, boost politicians, make and break reputations, foster revolutions, affect economies, even change our personal habits. And they have important relationships with some of the most powerful people, governments, and corporations on earth.
Only a few journalists are the big decision-makers who determine which stories to highlight and which to tank, of course. But rank-and-file journalists also make important decisions, too—about what facts deserve to be placed in the headline and first paragraph of a story, and which deserve to be buried or ignored altogether.
Before the Internet, it was simply impossible to give us all a seat at the table when it came to ranking news stories and facts within stories. But now it is possible. Infobitt gives you precisely that ability: to rank stories and to rank facts within stories. We’re empowering people with editorial functions that they have never had before. The result is a readable, interesting, genuine, and a really useful summary of the news.
Just think: what happens when many thousands, or even millions, of us go to work on it?
So that’s one reason to get busy on Infobitt. You’re both exercising your own right to occupy the Fourth Estate and supporting the rights of others to do the same.
What do you think? Do “we, the people” have a right to occupy the Fourth Estate? Should we help determine what order stories appear in, how the facts are represented, and what order facts should go in?
Or should we leave these crucial functions to the professionals?
Please return tomorrow for reason #2. For more blogging about the project, please see the manifesto.