Information Landmine

"The Americans keep telling us how successful their system is. Then they remind us not to stray too far from our hotel at night." - An un-named EU trade representative quoted during international trade talks in Denver, Colorado, 1997.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The internet, amateur journalism and MMA

The Geekier parts of the blogosphere have been all-a-twitter about Andrew Keen's book, The Cult of the Amateur. For those who've not heard, this is essentially a rant about how the internet is destroying the cultural industries, fragmenting public discourse and generally heralding the end of civilisation as we know it. The argument is that, between piracy and user-generated content, the market for big-budget, mainstream culture like big-budget films, popular hits and broadcast news are getting muscled out the market. For some reason he thinks this is a bad thing. So, to re-cap, this is a man who thinks that the big problem for the movie industry in the future is that it films won't have big enough budgets, the big problem for music is that people will listen to too much different stuff, and the big problem with the news media will be that we're hearing too many different opinions (I'm exaggerating slightly, but not much).

Many people far smarter than me have already written about how laughably bad the book is: equal parts economic illiteracy and touching faith in the status quo. In a brilliant combination of style and substance, Lessig put together a wiki in which a bunch of internet "amateurs" have come together to offer some fairly penetrating analysis of the faults of Keen's mass-media approved expertise - so I don't really need to go on about it.

What made me think of it was this article on the BBC News Site, all about how "politicians, religious leaders and senior police officers have condemned the staging of Scotland's first major cage fighting event." There's nothing particularly remarkable about the story. Every so often some member of the moral majority notices a cage event for the first time, and presents their shocking revelation as though it were news. Each time, you get the same tired analogies to gladiatorial combat and cockfighting and the same airy speculations about some connection to street violence. This happened when the UFC first came to England, and will probably continue to happen to smaller shows to no particular effect, because, on closer inspection, MMA always turns out to be a pretty safe sport and most of the people doing it turn out to be pretty decent citizens. What's interesting is that it didn't seem to happen the last time the the UFC hit these shores, presumably because it's now big business and so was accompanied by Dana White and his small army of publicists and trigger-happy lawyers.

All the stories really do is confirm what most of us knew anyway: if you know anything about a local story that's in the national news, you're going to find that most of what's being written about it is bollocks. The "filters" that Keen thinks keep us safe from slanderous journalism only work for those who have the resources to take serious legal action against major news organisations.


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