Kinsley should be applauded for his interactive initiative: and the L.A. Times is far from alone in changing the world of opinions as we know it.
The spotlight shone on the handful of hijackers who shut down the site with a flood of obscene messages and photos. But in the shadows hovered a more important group: the thousand readers who, over only two days, were animated by this newfound opportunity for civic engagement.
All around, the clues are unmistakable: Tech-savvy citizens, empowered with new information technologies, want to interact with the news. They yearn to offer their expertise, their ideas, their knowledge of their communities.
They have already started to blog, post photos, launch news ventures and post truth-squad stories, and, yes, write editorials.
They also want to participate in public life through interactive forms of media-although not always news media. Consider the 2004 presidential elections: Citizens made movies, produced political ads, played with candidate matchmakers and not only e-mailed Howard Dean's infamous scream to families and friends, they also mixed it to music.
While dispassionate analysis is the mainstay of most editorial pages, passion is the citizens' motivator, unlocking their creativity and concern for the world as they experience it.
Why can't we make room for both?
In truth, it's already happening, and not just at the L.A. Times.
Two years ago, The Dallas Morning News launched its editorial page blog, inaugurating an interactive community conversation about its editorial positions. More recently, it kicked off a conventional editorial page crusade with a most unconventional collaboration with readers. The newspaper's "Recorded Voices" campaign asked citizens to get their community groups to sign petitions calling on the state legislature to require that lawmakers' votes be publicly recorded. (No, in Texas they are not.) More than one hundred thirty-five community groups and news organizations, and thirty-seven legislators signed on. See dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/dws/dn/opinion/editorials/stories/ 032005dnedirecordedvotes.152fbe5e2.html (Registration required.)
The Philadelphia Inquirer's Citizen Voices projects have been convening hundreds of citizens for years to interact in real space, not just cyberspace, and examine issues and options surrounding mayoral, congressional, and gubernatorial campaigns. More recently, the Inquirer invited people to charrettes, taking a cue from the architectural world's use of these intense brainstorming sessions to solve a waterfront redevelopment challenge.
Why, even USA Today has long had its "Your View" contributors.
New tools, new questions
While we all acknowledge the historic roles of editorial pages, new media tools invite new questions.
Should editorial pages be bully pulpits or idea generators? Should they reach for consensus or creativity? Should they be an institutional voice or a practical roadmap to a confusing, noisy world? And why can't these choices be "ands" instead of "either/ors"?
Can readers "vote" for the best ideas for solving community problems? Or weigh in on community proposals via online surrogate public hearings? Can the best citizen contributors earn credibility through Amazon.com--like reputational ratings?
While the L.A. Times reconnoiters to retool its interactive efforts, other interactive developments tickle the imagination, including:
* Minnesota Public Radio's Idea Generator, which has invited people to weigh in on how to fix the state's racial gap in educational achievement (http://news.minnesota.publicradio .org/projects/2004/09/achievementgap/ideas/) and wrestle with the forlorn future of small towns (http://news.minnesota.publicradio.org/projects/2005/04/ smalltowns/).
* Sluggerotoole.com, which maintains a civil venue for recording news, commentary, and diverse opinion on Northern Ireland.
* Cnet's News.com, which has an interesting reader wiki on the Tech Renaissance in India. Entries cover how the country can maintain its software lead and offer specific guidelines to follow (http://indiatechwiki.com/index.php/Main_Page).
The L.A. Times should be applauded for its bold experiment--and its willingness to revamp its first initiative. New information tools have delivered new venues improving communities, enriching journalism--and reimagining editorial sections.
Jan Schaffer is director of J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism at the University of Maryland, College Park. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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|Title Annotation:||SYMPOSIUM: The Big Blow-Up and the future of editorial pages; Michael Kinsley, Los Angeles Times|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2005|
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