Wrapping Up At The Personal Democracy Forum

The past couple days have been filled with a flurry of panels and presentations about technology, politics and new media. There’s been so much information flying around, its hard to sort through all the noise. That’s why we were so pleasantly surprised by Kansas State University professor Michael Wesch’s presentation at the Personal Democracy Forum this morning about YouTube and the new media generation.

As a cultural anthropologist, Wesch examines how YouTube — and social media Web sites like Twitter and Facebook — have made people voyeurs and over-sharers. His entrancing presentation, which included some popular YouTube videos and their tributes, remixes and satires, drew the only standing ovation we saw at PDF.

This afternoon, we sat in on a panel about how the “Internet Ecosystem” can improve journalism — a topic we have ruminated upon ourselves. Moderated by PDF founder Andrew Rasiej, the panel included Frank Rich of The New York Times, Time magazine’s Karen Tumulty, Dan Gillmor of the Center for Citizen Media and NPR’s Scott Simon.

The discussion opened with Rasiej asking the panelists if the Internet has made their jobs easier and how it was affecting their ability to do their jobs.

“For those of us who have been doing this for a while, it’s a terrifying time,” Tumulty said about the future of journalism on the Web. “The good news is there are a lot of models out there and one is going to work or a combination is going to work…I just hope I’m still around when they crack the code.”

“We need a million experiments,” agreed Gillmor. “Many will fail, but the law of big numbers is that some will survive.”

But even in this age of uncertainty for journalists, social media is helpful, Simon said, noting that sites like Twitter allow you to “overhear what people are saying.”

Still, there are problems. Blogs don’t always hold the mainstream media accountable, Rich said, pointing to Iraq. The fact that the U.S. invaded Iraq with very little push back or probing investigations from the MSM or bloggers, “is a cautionary tale,” he said.

Ultimately, the panel agreed that while the Internet has made it easier for them to find stories and report them, it has raised questions about the way information is distributed, read and paid for.

“Part of the problem is we’re still talking about broadcast,” Gillmor concluded. “We used to produce content and broadcast it out to the public. That’s not what we’re doing any more. We put content online and consumers come and get it.”

And on one last note, we didn’t witness this, but heard that Air America’s Ana Marie Cox had the best quote of the conference: “I feel about anonymous blogging the way I feel about anonymous sex: if it’s good, how do you know who to go back to for more?” (Thanks go to Eric Kuhn for the tip.)