Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Are Newspaper Blogs the Future of Intelligent Discussion?

The New York Times's wonderful blog The Lede was created to track news stories as they unfold in real time. It has recently shown itself to be extremely apt, however, at gathering public opinion toward newsworthy events and the Times's own coverage of those events. For example, The Lede has published great long-running series about Russia (including a dialogue with Russian-language readers) and about youth throughout the Arab world.

Today, The Lede posted a story about a new play by Caryl Churchill that was inspired by the events in Gaza. "Seven Jewish Children" is currently running in London and might be produced in New York City. There is controversy in London over whether the play (a 10-minute collection of rhetorical questions aimed at Israeli youth) espouses anti-Semitic themes. The brilliance of the post is that it not only includes links to reviews of the play by other esteemed news sources (The Guardian, The Times, etc.) but that the blog includes a link to the full text of Churchill's play (link to PDF).

With all that has been said over the past few years concerning the interactivity of the Internet, the democratization of information, and the opportunity for every single person to voice his or her opinion, the universe of blogs, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and comment-enabled newspaper websites is really just a clutter of millions of opinions on millions of separate trajectories throughout cyberspace that almost never cross paths. In other words, everyone is talking but no one is speaking.

I believe that a blog post like today's The Lede post about Churchill's play represents the best of these newer Internet tools. A respected news source (the NYT) reports a story and various opinions from other news sources. Then, it gives readers the chance to read the original source material to form their own opinions about the story, and to comment on the story. This could eventually be interactivity at its best.

I say "could" because one quick glance at the comments section below the original post reveals the dark side of such interactivity. What could have been an intelligent discussion about the merits of the play quickly (and I mean quickly) devolved into a hate-spewing argument about the Palestinian conflict. The last place many people look for a civil discussion might be the Internet. But there's plenty of time, news, and webspace to hope, isn't there?

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