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Opening Arguments

YouTube, WeDecide

I happened to be watching ABC's 20/20 report called "Caught," a two-hour special about user-generated "viral content" on sites like YouTube," when the network broke in with the news of Saddam Hussein's execution. 20/20 then decided to stay with the execution and scrapped the rest of the show, which was still fairly early in the second hour. This Washington Post report notes that program interruption but fails to grasp the significance of it:

The current administration has attempted to construct a classic media argument in support of the war at a time when "the media" are dissolving and re-forming into something new, something in which the images we wish to see are more important than the images we are forced to see. Even before the execution video arrived, television people were publicly clucking about what they would or wouldn't show. It will be tasteful, they assured us. But their efforts at gatekeeping are now almost entirely irrelevant. The public will find exactly as much of the death of Hussein as it wants, and people will watch for as long as it holds any novelty or fascination. Taste is a collective worry, but in this new world of viral videos, you can construct your own war, personally tailored to your personal bloodlust. Saddam Hussein is dead, the video is out there. Enjoy.

What the writer doesn't note is that ABC's own actions disprove the whole premise of the "Caught" report, which is that, through the great information democratization of the Web, we (all of us) are going to decide not only what content there will be but which of it we will consume. But somebody at ABC, one of those elitist editorial We's, decided to scrap the report and go with something deemed newsworthy. News is still what somebody decides it is; everything else is just information. In the short term, it will seem like chaos out there, an information Wild West with everybody just throwing everything into the mix. But the more there is, the more people will want to find the truly relevant and interesting among all the clutter. There will be an even greater need for gatekeepers than there has been in the past. Those gatekeepers might not be called newspapers or TV networks, but they will be around, nonetheless.

Posted in: Web/Tech