Friday, January 21, 2005

Demon in the Dark

The Buzz Machine is posting live from a conference on blogging at Harvard. I've left the typos in and excerpted a few lines. One eye catching exchange goes as follows:

: Jimbo Wales, founder of Wikipedia, says that a few years ago, nobody could have predicted that a bunch of unpaid citizens could replace the Encyclopedia Brittanica with its budget of $350 million but it happened. He said that the business model of The New York Times is not sustainable. Abramson shudders, of course. Kaplan said Wales doesn't know what he's talking about; he has not been in a place like Baghdad and does not know the dififculty of getting information there and does not know how the existing system can be replaced.

:Hinderaker goes back to Bill Mitchell's question from his presentation, in which he asked what tool we need to help build trust. Hinderaker says it would help to show us the material behind the story. The attitude bloggers have is -- via the link: "See for yourself. Don't take our word for it."

Then somewhat later.

: Jill Abramson, an editor at the NY Times, and Dave Winer, get kerfluffling together and I can't summarize it well. But I entered in when she went on about the expense of keeping journalists in Iraq -- which is true and for which we are grateful. But I started telling the story of Zeyad taking his camera to cover an antiterrorism demonstration last December that The Times didn't cover. As soon as I mention it, Abramson starts shaking her head and looking away.

: Abramson said that it is "completely contrary" to the histyry and standards of The Times to run content that they do not vet.

I would have given anything to have asked whether Abramson of the Times preferred an unidentified AP stringer taking pictures of Iraqi election workers being executed on Haifa Street over Zeyad, and why. But that would have been churlish, and I must admit, intellectually shallow. The really interesting question was posed by Jimbo Wales. The engine that enabled Wikipedia to overtake Brittanica at the encyclopedia game was self-evidently a powerful one; a phenomenon, which I am tempted to surmise may structurally resemble asymmetrical warfare. Abramson shuddered and well she should. But at what? What was out there in the dark about which these conference participants are talking? It is a something that has already swallowed Brittanica. No one is quite sure what it is, but everyone should be quite certain that it will strike again.