Harvard BloJo Confabs: The Reviews Are In

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There was another “BloJo” confab last week up here at Harvard, officially titled Whose News, but from all outward appearances, it looked like BloJo Redux. That’s Blo for Bloggers and Jo for Journalists, and while we’re at it. Re for Rehash, and Dux for quack quack. This time, the meeting of the minds sponsored by the Media Center at the American Press Institute and hosted at the Nieman Foundation. I was curious whether I missed anything. So, it turns out, were the attendees.

I didn’t go; I hadn’t heard of it, until the conference was half over, when I took a peek at the blog of the original BloJo conference. “Another media conference” Rebecca MacKinnon posted, “The usual suspects will be there..”

Reading that, I sent an email over to the unusual suspects, a group of people I met while researching on inclusiveness of the first BloJo (aka “WebCred: Blogging Journalism and Credibility”). I told them about the new confab. Confab— I thought that word was synonymous with conference But it’s better: WordNet gives this sense for confab: “talk socially without exchanging too much information.”

On the periphery, we wonder why anyone should pay so much attention. But then we realize that other people are paying a little a bit of attention. For one, it’s Harvard. It’s also, potentially, not just the future of news; it’s really the future of communications. (Brian Reich, joining the usual suspects, made a point like this while blogging from the confab).

How do ideas get promoted to the people who promote ideas? (aka memetics)

I checked a number of the other blogs, particularly that of The Media Center, as well as those . The best dirt was posted near the end of the conference.


“…perhaps one symposium on the future of news too many,” blogger and journalist Jeff Jarvis wrote on the train heading back to New Jersey. He goes to these because he feels they’re important.

Susan Mernit, gave the a mixed review, suggesting this:

But it could have been better–while people made good points individually, we didn’t have any great insights, major epiphanies, or well-developed new insights. In truth, it felt to me like a lot of the same people swirling the same wine around in the same glass, falling back on the old homilies because they weren’t sure what else to say.

Halley Suitt was a bit more dejected during the proceedings:

There are “moderators” or “facilitators” … maybe call them EDITORS … who are deciding on when to let people speak. They tend to call mostly on the people in the inner circle. These editors are controlling the conversation, deciding who speaks and who doesn’t.

Despite all this, I find it psychologically fascinating, that the conversation is being controlled by an “editor.”

I would agree with Halley here– if only to point out the central paradox. The blogging evangelists would like the movement and the technology to be seen as inherently egalitarian. But as Seth Finkelstein has observed many times, and put it succinctly in a response to Halley, “There is *always* a gatekeeping system. For the simple reason that there are far more people who want to speak than want to listen.” This is a bit more clearer if we add “to a large crowd” after each of the verbs. It is easier to speak than to listen.

For once you admit that the star networks are inherent in organizations, you have to reconsider some of the “power to the people” rhetoric that riddles throughout the blog bunk. That’s not to say that decentralized models are undesirable. But it’s also not to say that centralized models are unavoidable.

Update, June 2nd: I added an ‘e’ to Halley’s name. Also, I should add, shortly after this piece went up I commenced work on The New Gatekeepers series.