Open Source everything: the new, new journalism.

Open Source everything: the new, new journalism.

16/10/11 | by admin [mail] | Categories: Conceptual, Philosophical

Several years ago, New Scientist published an article on CopyLeft and released it under a CopyLeft license.

In the ensuing discussion, I made a contribution where I suggest that a great many things could be released as 'Open Source' if we thought about how things were made, and what they were made from, you could open source a great many things to varying levels.

A film often discards a great many takes, even entire scenes and sequences. A film is also made from scripts, which under go several revisions. An actor makes choices about how to say a line. Producers about the team that makes the film. Casting decisions. A great many decisions.

Some of those decisions are easily unmade, in a sense, others are harder to unmake. An open source film could just present the constituent takes/scenes i.e. that which 'ends up on the cutting room floor', the decisions made when editing a film. Given that we have digital technology, these various scenes can be accessed from a Randomly Accessible device (non linear), and strung together in various ways, changing order or dropping certain scenes, adding others, choosing one taken over another.

Indeed that was something achievable fairly easily using 10 year old technology - a DVD player and a computer to chose and buffer scenes for smoother playback.

As far as I know, it hasn't been done.

A music single is much the same. Most music produced in the last 50 years has used a level of multi-tracking, and multiple takes. Sound engineering, mixing and production added over the top. Choices are made, source is included or excluded. Lyrics are varied, verses added and omitted, tracks included/excluded, faded in/out, loud or soft. Certain forms of music go further still, and play with individual samples and sounds, tweaking and reordering. These days a drum track is often composed of samples, stuck together, looped, manipulated, time corrected. Choices are made, source is included or excluded. Present the whole, and you have a remixers wet dream.

This has been done. And has invariably given interesting results.

What then of the piece that inspired it all? The magazine article itself. Again, choices are made, writers revise copy, editors edit. Things are stretched and shortened for commercial, even aesthetic reasons. Articles themselves are based on research. Indeed, it could be argued that the journalist's job is to take the raw research, and present it in nice magazine or newspaper sized chunks.

But why? One reason is technology. It is impractical, even impossible, to present all the raw research in a magazine. The raw research might represent several issues worth of words. Or it might include spoken interviews with people, which might be transcribed but certain nuances of speech are illy described with written words. And the large volume of disparate pieces from which a magazine article is born are not easily presented in a printed, paper, form.

This is stuff that the web excels at. The typical volume of data for one article is near trivial in web terms, where websites might run to several orders of magnitude greater than the proverbial Encyclopaedia Britannica (which was once the unit of measurement for such large amounts of data). Multimedia is not a problem, you can include text or audio or video or still photos or interactive diagrams or games… you see my point. And HyperText allows this to be presented in a way that the 'old media' really can't do. A reader can make decisions of their own about which way to follow the data.

In this world, journalism is about collating information and making it accessible. The truth is the readers to discover.

It turns the philosophy of the "New Journalism" on its head. Where the journalist was integral to the arbitration of truth, and subjectivity was so strong that it lead the new journalism movement to embrace it fully, this new new journalism allows the reader to be presented with largely the same wide gamut of raw research that the original journalist had, but could not publish.

Yes, decisions are still made, and some are hard to unmake like which questions to ask in an interview and the order to ask them, and indeed who to interview in the first place, realising that the choices once made will affect what follows.

Interactivity can go some way to presenting this all in a new way. Text can be revised, new data added, interviewees might make further direct contributions to 'the article' once it is published. And of course, the article is never published in that original sense, printed and fixed as a record forevermore.

And, if the article is released as copyleft, then it becomes part of a greater whole. Others can link to it, refer to it, take it apart and put it back together in a different way. Emphasise different part. The subjectivity is diminished further, as the article is no longer the sole work or responsibility of the original author/s.

In this paradigm, the work of Wikileaks (outside of political considerations) makes more sense. They are releasing the raw source. It is up to the audience to find the truth. Wikileaks is not sitting there as the arbitrator, picking and choosing, weaving a narrative to connect it all for us, presenting it in an easy to digest 500 word editorial. They've left that work to others. The web, due to its linked nature, allows this.

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