iReport, uReport | No News is your News
Reading the opinions of our Supreme Court justices is kinda like watching a highly intellectual soap opera. Especially if you’re reading Scalia. In in Brown v. Entertainment Merchant Association, a case that challenges the first amendment rights of minors, Scalia’s response to Justice Alito is the judicial equivalent of, well, this:The California law restricted kids abilities to rent or buy violent video games, and the court case against it brought up some fundamental questions about free speech, particularly as it relates to minors. You can read the various opinions here. Alito was basically saying that video games were too disgusting for children to play, but as Scalia points out, “disgust is not a valid basis for restricting expression.” Scalia argues that by trying to get us to focus on the violent nature of these games, Justice Alito is simply reenforcing “the precise danger posed by the California Act: that the ideas expressed by speech–whether it be violence, or gore, or racism–and not its objective effects, may be the real reason for governmental proscription.” The objective effects that Scalia is referring to (in any act of speech) have to do with how we learn from media, not what we learn. The how that kids get from these games is not violence or misogyny. That’s the what. The how is the mode of communication and interaction that kids learn through these games. It is the real-time communication and problem solving skills that many of these games require. What’s actually scary for those who would oppose the decision of the Supreme Court is not that violent video games teach kids it’s okay to go out and commit violent crimes; what’s scary is how video games are teaching kids to communicate faster and in more complex environments than those who might be in power. That is, after all, the fear that now seems to come hand in hand with any new medium.
Media theorist, Henry Jenkins, sums up what’s going on fairly well. New media are introduced, and “we take control of the media as it enters our lives.” We live in a participatory media culture that is “shaped as much by the decisions made in teenagers bedrooms as it is by the decisions made in the Viacom boardrooms.”
While this does afford us the tools to watch Big Brother, there are problems. Some people like to talk about authenticity being one of the major problems with websites that incorporate user-generated content, but questioning authenticity just puts us in Big Brother’s shoes. The real problem is the chaos. Just because a video goes viral does not mean it’s any good, and just because a video only has a few hits, doesn’t mean it isn’t amazing. The real question is how to sort through all the crap and get to something worthwhile.
One place I find this question particularly frustrating/intriguing is on CNN’s relatively new site, iReport, where users create and upload their own stories. But, like YouTube, I get lost trying to find interesting stories on iReport. The site tries to help out by giving its users/reporters assignments. The iReport staff then chooses certain ones to vet and possibly show on CNN or CNN.com. So, what you have is a site created so its users can share, discuss, and be heard, but we still only hear what someone else wants us to hear, not necessarily something we find engaging. The content is created from the bottom up, but then seems to be 100% curated from the top down. A truly revolutionary user created news site (granted, iReport never claims to be revolutionary, though it borders on the cusp of having that capability) would allow for those creating the content to also have a say in determining what content should stand above the rest.
Rather than suggest something like the star system used with YouTube, or the “like” system from Facebook, it would be great if sites like iReport looked to sites like CouchSurfing for inspiration. Likes and stars are great for finding fun, weird crap online, but both are too open to generate content that would be engaging to a news audience. With CouchSurfing, certain users have the ability to vouch for others. Once you have been vouched for by three people, you can start vouching for others on your own. While this starts at the top (the CS admins were the first to hold the power to vouch), it eventually does trickle down to anyone who proves themselves to be trustworthy and good company. A similar system for iReport would allow for the users to make more pointed suggestions to CNN about what they believe to be newsworthy.
If the evolution of media and technology has taught us anything – most recently after the advent of web 2.0 – it’s that media users will always try to find ways to be heard. What we need to work on now are ways of listening that are still discerning, but more user-friendly.