Credibility on the web

It seems as though there is some misunderstanding about an event
that we are co-hosting on January 21 and 22, 2005, on the topic of
credibility on the web.  The event is called “Blogging,
Journalism, and Credibility: Battleground and Common Ground” and is
co-hosted by us at the Berkman Center at Harvard Law School, the
Shorenstein Center at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, and
the American Library Association.  Here’s the idea, at least as I
(as just one of the organizers) think about what we’re trying to do
(which is why I’m dropping the “we” for this blog post).  

Among a number of other related issues, I am interested in the issues of credibility, trustworthiness, and
accountability on the Internet.  Over the past few years, the rise
of citizen journalism — call it blogging, if you prefer — has given
rise to what I consider a very healthy discussion about the
credibility, trustworthiness, and accountability of sources of
information of all sorts, but particularly on the Internet.  Some
of this discussion has arisen when “professional”? journalists have
messed up, and citizen journalists have pointed it out; or when citizen
journalists have broken important stories, one way or the other, that
the pros were missing.  Some of this discussion has arisen because
the pros (and other observers) have criticized the citizen journalists
for being an unaccountable, chattering echo chamber.  Some of it
has been prompted by people overwhelmed by an exploding number of
information sources online who feel at a loss for how to sort it all
out (and those, perhaps, yet to experience the joys of RSS).  Some
of it is foreshadowed by the hypergrowth of extensions of the
blogosphere, like podcasting, which point to new forms of
disaggregation in the production, dissemination, and enjoyment of
information.  Whatever the cause and whatever the effect, there’s
a lot to sort out.  The story is still breaking.  And
whatever the outcome, I think the process of rethinking credibility
online is a very productive one, whether for those who work for large
professional news outfits and those who write or speak with the
unedited voice of a single person.

Nobody has a monopoly on credibility on the web.  Lots of people
have reasonable claims to credibility of various sorts and from various
angles.  I can point to loads of mistrust and mutual critiques
among the parties involved — as well as reflection, self-study, and
occasional soul-searching by different parties on their own (including
conferences for journalists alone, like the recent Nieman conference,
and a growing number of blogging-related conferences, like BloggerCon)
– but I’ve seen many fewer attempts for people from different
perspectives to come together.  My hope is for this small
discussion, surely one of many and hopefully one of many more to come,
to be an honest, productive attempt for people with high hopes for
credibility, trustworthiness, and accountability online to come reason
together for a day or so.  The format for this discussion is
almost completely open discussion time, with only brief statements and
light coordination from the organizers and those who have been doing
some writing and other preparation in advance of the event.  

And to the issue of who we’ve invited: I don’t believe that we, or any
group we might convene, have a monopoly on talking about credibility on
the web.  The notion for this event is to pull together a group of
people who are involved in the study and practice of journalism and
blogging.  The most important thing we are looking for from
attendees is that they be honest, reflective, and constructive in their
attempts to work together on this issue of credibility online. 
There’s no way that we can include everyone in a roundtable discussion
who ought to be at this table.  We will surely not have succeeded
perfectly; we are sharply limited by space and money; and we know that,
unlike with the free, open events we host regularly, there will be
people disappointed not to be invited to this one.  (So, apologies
in advance on this score.)  Our best effort here is to hold this
particular discussion in as open a format as we can, through a live
webcast, an IRC channel, wifi in the room for blog entries, and the
like.

For alternate viewpoints to my own, you might consider the thread in the comments section of the Participants page of the conference blog and also two posts from invited participant Dave Winer, here and here.

I am re-assured by the thought that, whatever its strengths and
whatever its shortcomings, this event is but one in a series of
conversations, both in real space and in virtual space, that seek to
move the ball forward on this important topic.