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Joshua Marshall, Media and Democracy at Berkman@10

Probably the best part of Joshua Micah Marshall’s talk at Berkman@10 was the discussion of distributed collaboration. Marshall runs the popular Talking Points Memo, and was the winner of the respected George Polk Award–a first for a blogger. He discussed how his community of readers play an active role in generating story ideas and help with investigative journalism tasks such as gathering insider information or even applying pressure on politicians to release how they vote on, for example, the change in House rules that allowed Tom Delay to remain the Majority Leader even though he had been indicted. The distributed nature of the community allowed TPM to have better information on individual Representative’s voting records than the leading news agencies or even the White House on that internal vote since constituents are not nearly as easy to hang up on as political journalists.

Marshall also highlighted the iterative process of each story, which is often improved over time by reader comments and contributions. Marshall’s talk hit on many of the unique benefits of online distributed collaboration and community that were raised earlier in a plenary session led by Berkman Faculty Co-Director Yochai Benkler and Jimmy Wales, Founder of Wikipedia.

I found the ‘old media vs. new media’ parts of the speech a bit stale compared the discussion we had at the event’s Open Media Session, which focused on what we want out of all media and actions to make sure we reach those goals, instead of rehashing the same old debates about the negative impacts of the Internet on traditional media.

The session was also heavily reliant on contributions from the impressive group of participants including journalists and staff from media outlets such as the New York Times, WGBH, and overseas newspapers, as well as representatives from other interesting new experiments such as Charlie Sennot’s Global News. Sennot noted that he tried initially to create Global News as a not-for-profit, but when that didn’t work he switched to a for-profit, advertising-driven model that has worked well. Among the many possible future actions for Berkman or others working in the space, one participant asked for research and guides on various business models for new media ventures, similar to the Citizen Media Law Project’s database and Legal Guide.

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