Friday, March 04, 2005

Harvard: The Medium IS MOST DECIDEDLY The Message

I have to say something about the way the room is set up for this conference on Journalism at Harvard. I want you to get inside the room with me.

There is a circle of about 35 people seated at desks with name plates, seated in a U.N. style, rather like Knights of The Table Round, quite King Arthurish, right? Get the image?

And at these 35 seats are an esteemed group of journalists and bloggers and thinkers, people like Len Apcar of The New York Times, Craig Newmark of Craig's List, Jeff Jarvis of Buzzmachine, Rebecca MacKinnon of Harvard Berkman (nee CNN), Jay Rosen of Pressthink and NYU, David Weinberger of Harvard Berkman. You all know I love these guys and do respect their writing and thinking and I don't want to diss them. Many are good friends, some are new acquaintances.

Mysteriously, there is a "second-tier" of people OUTSIDE the inner circle in chairs, some without desktops to set up their nameplates, some with, but with the layout of the room there is a feeling of being "out of it" if you are not in the inner circle. I don't believe this was done intentionally, but having organized conferences myself, I will simply say, due to the constraints of physical space, these things do happen. Guess where I'm sitting -- don't guess too long -- I'll tell you, I'm outside of the inner circle.

This is all well and good, but let's add one other odd fact.

There are "moderators" or "facilitators" ... maybe call them EDITORS ... who are deciding on when to let people speak. They tend to call mostly on the people in the inner circle.

These editors are controlling the conversation, deciding who speaks and who doesn't.


If you are in the inner circle and want to speak, you flip over your name tag to say you'd like to talk. If you are in the outer circle, chances are, you can't be seen (being blocked by the inner circle) and neither can your name tag be seen and you either have to jump in or not be heard.

Despite all this, I find it psychologically fascinating, that the conversation is being controlled by an "editor."

By the editor picking people who can and who can not speak, they are killing the pace of the conversation to my mind, by letting one person raise an interesting point, telling them when to stop talking and then, instead of letting everyone in the room jump on the topic and let it grow, pick up speed, pick up data, get a theme and variation going, let the jazzy improvisation that naturally happens in a conversation (or on a blog) explode, in other words, they control the disparate voices.

As a blogger, you can see I might have a certain reaction to someone controlling a conversation. As a blogger, you might recall that putting these blogging tools and other new technological tools in the hands of MILLIONS OF PEOPLE who have never been allowed to speak ... ALLOWED to be heard ALOUD ... that this is what blogging is all about. (I didn't call it "MONGREL MEDIA" for nothing in a post below.)

As a blogger, I often get the feeling that Mainstream Media is all about deciding you can speak if you went to the right Ivy League school, if you've got the right clothes, if you have the right parents who splished and splashed and summered in the right gene pool, if you speak with the right tone.

The people in the inner circle are interesting, the people in the second-tier seating are more interesting ... and of course the people I really want to hear from are NOT IN THE ROOM.