Monday, 21 November 2011

Internet Open sourcing the news

Open sourcing the news
                   The development of the personal computer may have empowered  the individual, but there were distinct limits. One was software code itself. Proprietary programs were like black boxes. We could see what they did, but not how they worked. This situation struck Richard Stallman, among others, as wrong. 
      In ,January 1984, Stallman quit his post at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Artificial Intelligence Lab. He formally launched a project to create a free operating system and desktop software based on the Unix operating system that ran on many university computers. Stallman’s ideas ultimately became the foundation for Linux, the open source operating system that brought fame to Linus Torvalds. The goal of Stallman’s work, then and now, was to ensure that users of computers always had free software programs for the most basic and important tasks. Free, in this case, was more about freedom than about cost. Stallman and others in this movement thought that the programming instructions—the source code—of free software had to be open for inspection and modification by anyone. In the late 1990s, as Linux was gaining
traction in the marketplace, and as many free software applications and operating systems were available, the movement got another name: open source, Open source software projects are a digital version of a small-town tradition: the barn raising. But open source projects can involve people from around the world. Most will never meet except online. Guided by project leaders—Torvalds in the case of Linux—they contribute bits and pieces of what becomes a whole package. Open source software, in many cases, is as good as or better than the commercial variety. And these programs are at the heart of the Internet’s most basic functions: open source software powers most of the web server computers that dish out information to browsers.
from tom paine to blogs and beyond When the code is open for inspection, it’s safer to use because people can find and fill the security holes. Bugs, the annoying flaws that cause program crashes and other unexpected
behavior, can be found and fixed more easily, too.What does this have to do with tomorrow’s journalism?
Plenty. Yochai Benkler, a Yale University law professor who has written extensively on the open source phenomenon, has made a strong case that this emergent style of organization applies much more widely than software. In a 2002 essay, “Coase’s Penguin,”  he said the free software style could work better than the traditional capitalist structure of firms and markets in some circumstances. In particular, he said that it “has systematic
advantages over markets and managerial hierarchies when the object of production is information or culture, and where the physical capital necessary for that production—computers and communications capabilities—is widely distributed instead of concentrated.” He could have been describing journalism. In his essay, and
in the course of several long conversations we’ve had in the past several years, Benkler has made the case that several of the building blocks are already in place to augment Big Media, if not substitute it outright, with open source techniques. He told me that bloggers and operators of independent news sites already do a respectable job of scanning for and sorting news for people who want it. The editorial function has been adopted not just by bloggers, but by a host of new kinds of online news operations. Some peer-reviewed news sites, such as the collaborative Kuro5hin, which describes itself as “technology and culture, from the trenches,” are doing interesting journalism by any standard, with readers contributing the essays and deciding which stories make it to the top of the page. According to Benkler, only in the area of investigative journalism
does Big Media retain an advantage over open source journalism. This is due to the resources Big Media can throw at an investigation. we the media  In my own small sphere, I’m convinced that this already applies. If my readers know more than I do (which I know they do), I can include them in the process of making my journalism
better. While there are elements of open source here, I’m not describing an entirely transparent process. But new forms of journalistic tools, such as the Wiki (which I’ll discuss in the next chapter), are entirely transparent from the outset. More arecoming.
An open source philosophy may produce better journalism at the outset, but that’s just the start of a wider phenomenon. In the conversational mode of journalism I suggested in the Introduction, the first article may be only the beginning of the conversation in which we all enlighten each other. We can correct our mistakes. We can add new facts and context. If we can raise a barn together, we can do journalism together.

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