Sunday, April 05, 2009

Ken Chapman's Blogging Manifesto

I am writing this post as a personal manifesto about what has been on my mind about the future of this blog. I understand a manifesto to be a statement from "a body of little consequence" that explains past actions and the reasons and motives for what is forthcoming. So, in that spirit, I am going to be extending and amplifying the tone, tenure and attention of this blog to be more assertive, aggressive and pointed on public policy issues and political events in Alberta, its place in Canada and the world.

It is approaching three years since I innocently started this blog. It has been an enjoyable experience. I have met many new and interesting people. I have found new mentors (mostly under 30) who patiently explain the changing world of connectivity and social media to me. I have been able to exercise my right of free speech overtly, to formulate my thoughts purposefully and to share my opinions widely. The conversations emerging from the comments and emails, plus the numerous invitations to speak to groups and gatherings have provided some of my best learnings-for-life experiences.

I think it is time to take all this to the next level. Regular readers know I am most interested in politics, culture, creativity, environment, business and social justice stuff. This is also the core interests of mainstream news media and journalism. I have never thought of blogging as actual journalism, just “journalism-ish.” There are traditional journalists who are now blogging regularly from their traditional media outlets too, so the lines are getting fuzzy.

The closest blogging comes to journalism is published and promulgated opinion pieces through internet and traditional media, in what some have called citizen journalism. The citizen journalist parallels are closer to mainstream media columnists - not traditional news reporting. Although news reporting is possible for bloggers using live blogging techniques that strive to “cover” certain news events. We don’t pretend to cover the “news” but some bloggers get invited to news events and conferences in hopes that we will “cover” them in our postings.

As the blogosphere matures there is more authority being attributed to certain newsworthy bloggers and websites. This is especially true for those that create and aggregate useful subject matter that provides insight, opinion and commentary - and can draw an audience.

The other reality is the business model for newspapers, magazines and network television are all suffer from increasing expenses, dwindling audiences and diminishing advertising revenues. All of this media turmoil is happening in the perfect storm of a severe economic recession.

The other big changes that are impacting our reality as citizens are the social, environmental, economic and political shifts. They are not only large scale tectonic changes, they are happening rapid and accelerating and are world-wide; all at the same time.

With ubiquitous connectivity information is instantaneous, context is confusing, complexity is expanding and meaning and connotation is confounding. What are citizens to do and where are they to go to get an understanding and a sense of what this means for the future wellbeing of their families and communities?

The standard journalism edicts of telling the public the news by reporting on who, what, where and when are not enough anymore. They get trumped by the pubic need to know why and how and; even more crucial, to understand the ends or consequence of complex events or issues. In the information maw of the 24 hour news cycle, novelty replace nuance, simplicity replaces clarity and being first with a story is too often more valued by the media than being factual. Putting adversarial pundits on television to mouth focused group tested messages “against” each other is passed off as in-depth analysis. It is all being dumbed down and debased as infotainment.

With all this happening, I sense a decline in the ability and capacity of the traditional media to be effective as the watchdog for the public interest. The citizenry has also become cynical, distrusting and disengaged from politics and governance. As a result governments go though the motions of public consultations and the public feels more distanced, distained and marginalized, even at election time. I think the underpinnings of western representative democracy, namely an informed and engaged citizenry, is under threat due to an institutionalization of ennui, alienation and indifference.

It is my experience that you can take truth to power but power mostly has its own agenda that is not necessarily public information, and if it is public it may not be well known - by intention. Power may simply not care about the truth you bring to it, especially if it has already made up its mind and is prepared to risk the political and governance consequences of being wrong. The consequence of the power elite being wrong doesn’t just mean a potential loss of their power to be the “deciders.” Such arrogant mistakes can be devastating to an entire economy, society, culture and yes, even the planet.

This recession is caused largely by this arrogance of the powerful people in the Bush administration, lax regulators and a gaggle of greedy business “leaders.” It has been made much worse by their indifference to the extent of the consequences of them being wrong.

So with these conditions and with this consciousness, I have decided to take this blog even more aggressively into the realm of citizen journalism. In fact this blog will be dealing more aggressively with issues, events, politics and public policy matters I care about, I know about or am actively engaged in, personally or professionally. I will be prudent in letting you know every time I write about a matter I am professionally engaged in, and to what extent, so you can better judge the authority and authenticity of my content.

I have blogged on matters that I have been professionally involved with in the past and have disclosed that fact, except one time I forgot. I was working with a coalition of health professionals and advocates to get a law passed to ban smoking in work and public places. In earlier posts I mentioned my professional relationship with the issues but one time I forgot. I got called on it by other bloggers and in comments and rightly so. I have learned my lesson and will be vigilant about such disclosure in each and every relevant post in the future.

This blogs move towards journalism about citizenship is not going to replace the traditional media. It is more of a supplement to traditional media, provided traditional media continues to survive and provide a useful service. If it doesn’t survive then something will have to fill the vacuum to help citizen understand context and connotation of public policy issues and events.

Perhaps citizen journalism and journalism about citizenship using blogs will be a transition to a different sustainable news and opinion medium. I know we will need some new media model to emerge to aid and protect the public interest.