Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The new world of information -- citizen muckrakers

In this recent post I discussed the American political commentary site Talking Points Memo as a model of what new things could be done with the Internet.

And now here is something else.

In connection with the scandal surrounding an apparent attempt by the White House to completely politicize the US Department of Justice, the White House has released a mountain of documents, 2000 pages or more, to the US House of Representatives Judiciary Committee.

Since this is being done rather unwillingly, the document dump is meant as a delaying tactic to take some of the pressure off the White House, there is certainly a lot of chaff meant to slow detection and revelation of the wheat. After all, a normal journalistic outfit would take quite a bit of time to go through 2000 pages, right?

The response of TPM has been interesting. They've pointed to the material (see the "What's new" section of that page) and asked their readers, many of whom are better acquainted with the scandal to date than most reporters, to rake through the material and report back on a comment thread for one of TPM's blogs.
I am in awe.

I also wonder about the future of expertise. I count as an expert in a couple of fields and as someone with a wide knowledge of history in general. Students come to Nipissing University to be taught by people with my kind of qualifications, and the university pays me well because by traditional standards I'm pretty good. It strikes me, though, that people like me, and the much higher paid op-ed writers and think-tankers, are going to have to work pretty hard in the future to justify our positions.

I don't think that "in the future there will be no experts" or "we will all be experts," or that "the university is doomed." There is always room for good facilitators and there are unfortunately always plausible phonies. I think however that the world of knowledge and information will be much more fluid. People will be unable to understand why Wikipedia was so controversial.

Image: That, my friends, is an antique muckrake. I've raked a fair amount of muck in my time and I'm glad to see what the proper tool looks like.


Blogger Ancarett said...

While I see that there's a lot of value in parceling out the hard work of sorting through evidence and even in harnessing the community to make the individual analytic points, there's still work for people to guide the way, teach some of those all-important analytic techniques and show how a broader knowledge of a field can give deeper insights.

In other words, professors are hardly obsolete. Nor have we really functioned as dispensers of knowledge in a long time (although I despaired the other day when I had to explain the term "papacy" to one of my second-year students).

3:40 PM  
Blogger Steve Muhlberger said...

I also found it interesting that a group of strangers with a common interest were able to mobilize so quickly.

These people must be the hard core of US Attorneys Purge fandom, and now they aren't just spectators. (TPMMuckraker has been the media outlet most committed to digging up this particular batch of muck.)

7:26 PM  

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