Radio-sphere Now, Blogosphere Later

There’s always much talk of how weblogs/the web are creating a sort of “citizens news network” or “we media”. It certainly seem like something that’d be possible once browsing the web is as easy as making a cell-phone call. This morning’s “coverage” of the Austin ice-out on 590 was a good example of what this “we media” might be capable of and what it’d do best. As Josh said, city-wide sheet of ice shut down Austin. So driving in from Houston this morning I tuned into 590, trying to get as much info as possible. My otherwise trust worth news source, KUT, was playing music inspired by the cold, or something along those lines.

“And then it does seem that…maybe, then, Iraq will invade itself!”

Usually, 590 broadcasts yappin’ mouth drool during most of the day, but this morning they opened up the broadcast to people just calling in and saying things like, “south bound I-35 is at a standstill,” or, “as you approach the airport, 71 gets dangerous.” The DJ/hosts would interject with information about closings and recaps of these “we media” contributions, but the majority of the sound coming from 590 were amateur news gatherers. Overall it was a rare instance of “the media” serving the public good in a way only they (or their infrastructure) can. I can imagine that as the web becomes more accessible throughout my daily life, it’ll be useful and satisfying in a similar way.

One other interesting aspect of the broadcast was that — along the lines of one web-concept Weinberger frequently emphasizes — was that the KLBJ DJ/hosts didn’t speak in controlled, corporate voices. To cite one example, they gave out advice that could easily be used in lawsuits against the station: people would call up and ask for what roads seemed safe and even ask for driving advice. Rather than begging off the question because of tort-fritting, they responded like you’d expect a normal person to by giving advice.

“‘Skaterboy’…or in my case, ‘skaterboy2’. Clearly someone on AOL is more quick to the punch than I…”

Along these same lines, it’s interesting to note that the actual paid professional staff of 590 was doing the least amount of news gathering. 590 did have an incredible amount of correspondents in the field, and no doubt had to spend quite a bit of money to support those folks. However, much of the value of 590’s broadcast came from individuals, without which 590 wouldn’t have had the coverage to make “their” reporting as useful as it was: there would have simply been 5-8 sources of information instead of the countless folks who called in.

It seems like this general idea of using people as low cost, “low power” reporters (individuals will likely never replace the quality and credibility of hard-core journalists) could greatly improve the over all quality of the currently highly centralized and information weak news-world. Of course, this is one my favorite dead horses: quality news requires spending money to send correspondents into and support them in the field. Instead we have all those cheaply produced talking head shows that dominate broadcast news; and when the news actually send someone out to do investigative journalism it’s the tragic chair-head Geraldo.

“However, whatever thawed today, will re-freeze tonight.”

Of course, there’s really no way I could browse the web while driving. Something along the lines of an audio web — were thousands of people’s contributions can be search by voice-command — would probably be the ideal “we media” conduit in such situations. Then again, even having text access to the ‘net would have been good enough for all those times I pulled to the side of the road, or took refuge in a gas station.

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