Radical Instrument

IT is changing the exercise of power. Radical Instrument is picking up the signals.

More on Web 2.0 and political organizing: a role for the Fourth Estate?

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I was really disturbed by this article in last week’s Washington Post, detailing the atrocities witnessed by an escapee from a North Korean concentration camp. There’s been a debate over on Slashdot over a Nobel Prize winner’s assertion that ICT could have prevented the rise of Hitler and World War II. The story about North Korean prison camps provides the depressing answer: probably not.

But why not? I’ve been racking my brains over the last few days trying to come up with ways by which any ordinary citizen’s use of ICT could be applied to expose, if not end, genocide and other atrocities that should be pushed into history’s dustbin.

I don’t have an answer (obviously). But I do have a thought.

Journalism is an industry in search of a business model, if it’s to survive as an industry at all. In my previous post, I pointed out some early post-Obama uses of social networking and collaboration technologies for political organizing – the point being that we’re going to see a great many campaigns to come, both issue-based and election-based, that will adopt the web strategy employed by the Obama campaign.

But anybody adopting such a strategy will need a development platform, even if it’s just a wiki and a domain. Here’s where digital journalism could (and maybe should) evolve: provide the development platforms that allow people to engage in the “story.” Take the North Korea story. Why is it merely a story? Where’s the use of geospatial data and satellite images to show the locations of all known North Korean concentration camps? Transcripts of related deliberations (if any) by appropriate U.S. Congressional committees and international organizations?

It strikes me that any media organization could provide a generic, even neutral platform – or even a set of modules – that subscribers could use to build out for whatever purpose necessary. Provide a wiki for a local issue that individuals on either side of the issue could port over and customize, for a fee. Writing a story on the markets? Provide relevant data as a spreadsheet or forecasting model. Sports? The platform’s already there … fantasy football, baseball, whatever.

The Fourth Estate originally emerged in the U.S. as a vehicle for political mobilization and organization (see Benson Bobrick’s “Angel in the Whirlwind” for wonderful historical perspective on this). In journalism’s modern quest for objectivity, the “vehicle,” now essentially code, has been left to political actors to figure out for themselves. Why not provide the tools – the code library – that political actors of any stripe could use to organize? Continue to deliver the story, but sell the means by which people could engage with (or against) the story.

I’d pay for it. There are still some atrocities in need of a dustbin.

Written by Mark

December 15, 2008 at 2:34 am

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