But who, exactly, is The Public?

au500-666-ghostbustersThere’s a lot that I agree with in Jeff Jarvis’ post about the use of and publishing of publicly-accessible data by journalists, but this opening is ridiculous on its face:

Reporters and editors used to decide what was to be made public. No longer. More and more, the public decides what will be public … and that’s as it should be.

OK…that sounds nice and egalitarian and euphoric. But who is the public? What’s the voting mechanism to decide whether some sort of data or information is made public or not? What’s the criteria – is a simple majority alright or does it need to be 2/3 of the voting public and when exactly is the arbitrary cut off date for that voting to be tallied?

Jarvis goes on to argue that such matters should be decided as matters of law, but I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what’s going on right now. And the journalistic community, then, is the face of that public. I agree with him that the journalist’s duty is then to make some sort of point based on that data and add value to what may be a dry spreadsheet. But there’s little to no difference outside of the size and reach of the platform whether a daily newspaper does this or if a local blog writer does it.

Again, I agree with much of Jarvis lays out here. But the idea that “the public” is somehow responsible for deciding when and how information is brought into the light of day doesn’t really hold up to much rhetorical scrutiny.

Speaking of data-based journalism, CJR has a story up about the dangers of this field since data can be so open to interpretation, molded into anything the writer wants it to conform to. There are certainly lots of potholes in this road and it’s going to, I think, require a whole new level of training for media professionals.