Notes on the creation of a new media landscape

Posts Tagged ‘Internet Manifesto

You Say You Want a Revolution?

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This is how it starts.

Last week, 15 prominent German bloggers issued an “Internet Manifesto,” which got the Web so atwitter the Manifesto’s servers went down. Within the day, the statement was back up, this time translated into 13 languages.

For the most part, the Manifesto was pretty tame, not at all inflammatory, except when compared to the counter-revolutionary (royal, you might say) statement issued a couple of months before and endorsed by most of Europe’s most prominent publishers. The so-called “Hamburg Declaration” began with an accusation of theft:

Numerous providers are using the work of authors, publishers and broadcasters without paying for it …For this reason, we advocate strongly urgent improvements in the protection of intellectual property on the Internet.

In response, the Manifesto, while upholding the sanctity of copyright, asserted the responsibility that content creators have to encourage free and robust civic discourse. Even though its 17 principles were for the most part simple statements of fact (e.g., “#1: The Internet Is Different”), the Manifesto was taken to be a kind of declaration of independence for the new world of digital media.

The media must adapt their work methods to today’s technological reality instead of ignoring or challenging it. It is their duty to develop the best possible form of journalism based on the available technology.

Consider that statement for a moment: Adapting to reality is a media company’s duty. Well, yes—a duty to shareholders if no one else, and a supremely moderate position.
So was this: People should have a say in governing themselves. We know how that story ends.

In truth, we know how this one ends as well, or should. Media companies need to start actually adapting to—and embracing—the capabilities of the Internet, instead of punting, pretending and trying to protect themselves from it.

At the same time, both media companies and digital Jacobins need to stop trying to confuse what news-aggregation sites do with peer-to-peer-sharing, a/k/a piracy, so that authors, journalists and other content creators can continue to rely on being paid for the labors of their lives’ work.

Both the royalists and the Jacobins are demagoguing the issue of Internet freedom, but why should these journalistic precincts be immune from that sort of thing? If it’s good enough for Keith Olbermann and Glenn Beck….

TIME’s story on Beck by David von Drehle this week may be more even-handed than some might wish (see the flaming tweets of NYU’s Jay Rosen (@jayrosen_nyu) on Twitter, for example), but no one could argue with Von Drehle’s statement about America in 2009:

Trust is a toxic asset, sitting valueless on the national books. Good faith is trading at pennies on the dollar.

You cannot blame this fact on the Internet, as much of an enabler as it may be of loose talk and partisan screaming. When I was the editor of TIME, 15 years ago—when the world was still using 56k modems—Kurt Andersen did a cover story on Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern. The cover showed them both shouting into a microphone, and the headline was “Voice of America”.

The Web did not do this to civic discourse. We did it to ourselves.
Next week: The need for a new public square

Jim Gaines
Twitter: @jamesrgaines