Last week’s Symposium on Computation & Journalism left me excited, disappointed and confused.
It was hard not to be excited listening to all the technologists talking about the latest advances that will allow us to get news to once isolated people in Africa and India using mobile phones and other technology. Once again, it was driven home that no longer is the price of a computer a barrier to digital participation. The ubiquitous cell phone, as common in my neighborhood as the bikes people use for transportation, is now allowing us to get news to people all over the world.
Yet for all the talk about reaching other countries, there was very little talk about reaching people in my neighborhood. Ordinarily I would be annoyed, but not surprised. It’s not news that so far the new media is not shaping up to be any more inclusive than the traditional media. In fact, some might argue that traditional media at least has a recognition for the need for diversity.
But this time I was a truly disappointed. Given that the talk around this year’s election is the importance of the black vote, the Hispanic vote, the youth vote and that questions of class have cut through the entire election, I thought this might be the conference where we would get wind of some projects arming the young men in my neighborhood with the latest mobile technology so they could report on the election from the front lines. You need to know what going on so you know what to do, one of the speakers said. Well, how as journalists are we going to know what to do if we continue to fail to find out what’s going with large segments of our community?
Perhaps I went to the meeting with a national version of Global Voices dancing in my mind. Not to be. And what a shame. Given the political commentary on blogs from Too Sense to Racialicious, it would not be hard to convene a group of bloggers of color around the election, or just about any other issue facing this country.
So I left excited and disappointed. Excited because I see how easy it could be. Disappointed because I saw how little progress has been made in reaching the totality of our communities.
As for the confusion, when I looked around the room I had a hard time making sense of the demographics. Again, it wasn’t the lack of racial or ethnic diversity. I went in there expecting that. I also went in expecting that a meeting billing itself as a combination of computation and journalism might have an equal number of technologists and journalist. Not so much. The handful of journalists in the room were far out numbered.
So, just as I left wondering how we are really going to know what’s going on in this country if we don’t reach out to all the residents in our various communities, I also left wondering what happens to the craft of journalism if journalists abdicate responsibility for the technology that will drive the craft into the future.