No Gods, No Kings, No Gatekeepers?

Last year in Journalism class, we were posited the question What is Journalism, and how is it changing? The question came at the end of a semester of discussion of aggregation of data, of wikileaks and twitter.

The conclusion I reached in my essay was that Journalism was barely changing at all. Journalism, I argued – and I passed, so hey, here’s hoping the lecturers didn’t think me full of crap – was the process of turning data into information and information into narrative.

People like narrative, but more than that, narrative is one of the fundamental ways our minds store information. Basically, we all tell stories to store information. Consider the way our lecture turned the events in Bangkok into a narrative – it was to store in our memory that story, which in turn, made the point.

The lecture called this aggregating. By this definition, journalism is aggregation – just the aggregation process is done to different standards. Journalism’s gatekeepers and aggregators’ gatewatchers don’t seem to be fundamentally or structurally different.

Multiple times in the lectures we returned to the idea of the non-internet media as absolutely without user control, and decentralised online spaces like Reddit and 4chan and Slashdot as without central control.

Thing is, Moot can pull the plug on 4chan any time he wants. The Fappening most recently shows that Reddit can close the door on anyone any time it wants, along with their bannings, shadow bannings, and ip blocking. These systems are not without control – they’re just very permissive.

What we’re seeing here is a change in grip, a shift in tone, that’s being referred to as a revolution. The idea that Reddit can’t control itself defies the very basic point that Reddit is one singular website, which has an owner who controls it. It’s not only one website, but it’s one website that’s trying to exist in a marketplace and an economy that isn’t actually profitable. If Reddit shut down, would there be other Reddits? Probably. But Reddit itself, as recently as 2013, was admitting that it wasn’t profitable. The ultimate aggregator in a data-rich environment wasn’t able to make money for many years. The attention of its 70 million+ consumers wasn’t valuable enough to guarantee its existence. Hey, maybe it will be by the end of this year. Maybe being the front page of the internet for nine years solid can eventually generate enough attention in the free-data no-source information economy to be able to keep going.

We have come around a great circle. Once, you could control the media coming at you by turning it off; now, we pretend we couldn’t back then, and pretend we can’t turn things off any more.