June 28th, 2011 10:22 EST
Facebook: A News Template That Far Exceeds Newspapers in Effectiveness
Is this headline crazy or what?
Let me try to make the case that it`s eminently sane. Facebook, the dominant social network, is a kind of newspaper template. Its visual organization and logic is profoundly influenced by the way newspapers traditionally parse news. Just as it`s descended from newspapers, they`re now influenced by it.
The idea of newspapers controlled by ordinary people has always been dismissed as a Communist reverie [it has been a fantasy under Communist regimes] or hopelessly utopian. Suddenly it`s a fact. It has happened under our noses by sidestepping the very dragon that always belied the notion of a fully vigilant and uncensored press "the need for advertising support.
We can use Facebook as a gossip sheet, a diary, a pulpit, a scandalmonger, or a serious purveyor of information. We are beholden to each other for content, not to corporate news gatherers. And we can generate our own content, as I often do. The static 20th Century idea of content providers has already given way to content exchange. We are each other`s reporters, sources, pundits, investigators, and, most importantly, educators. I believe the idea is far more radical than we have recognized. The traditional purveyors of information have a vested interest in our not appreciating just how radical it is.
I don`t regard this concept of Facebook as a conceit, an outrÃ© way to look at the nature of information; I regard it instead as a sea change in the way we hold events up to the light and make decisions about them. In the past, the news media have talked to us, now we`re talking to each other. It`s a frontier, raucous and roughshod, but it`s remarkably civilized, as if the participants sense a power never before available to them.
Another way to view Facebook and the other social networks is that they are exchanges where information and ideas are traded. For example, an organization in the United Kingdom makes a fascinating video inviting us to consider that NATO has intervened in Libya not to save rebels from Muammar Qadaffi`s vengeance but because he has been pushing a pan-African gold dinar that could challenge the euro and the dollar. Some people believe that is the real reason we invaded Iraq, because Saddam Hussein planned to switch his oil-rich nation from the dollar to the euro as a currency basis.
Were you exposed to this intriguing but arguable idea in the mainstream press? It was posted on my Facebook pages by a young Algerian in Constantine, Zinedine Saoula. I found it newsworthy and moved it from my Home page, which changes moment by moment, to my Profile page, where it is more likely to be noticed. That`s what newspaper editors do, and it`s what millions of us are doing. My blog, where you`re reading this, is not a newspaper in any sense. You could call it my opinion page. But it`s limited to my thoughts. On the other hand, my Facebook pages reflect the thoughts and inquiries and interests of hundreds if not thousands of people. It is, I contend, a newspaper.
This populist idea is probably analogous to the Gutenberg press threatening calligraphers. Calligraphy survived but not as the vast cottage and monastic industry it had been. Paper books will survive the advent of e-books but not in the cultural context to which we have become familiar. As recently as 1999 pundits were pooh-poohing the prospects of the e-book.
I try to focus my Facebook pages on a community of interests: poetry, literature in general, the press, and the impact of politics on culture "matters with which I have some familiarity if not a claim to expertise. If someone posts his or her breakfast menu or his or her child`s latest utterance I usually delete it, not because I find it beneath my attention but because I am pursuing an agenda. I pursue this agenda as the National Enquirer pursues its agenda, or the Boston Review its interests. I cull, I vet, I parse, I comment, I focus "all functions of the traditional newspaper. I chafe at the limitations of Facebook`s template. I would like to tinker with its design, but then it wouldn`t be Facebook with all its immense popularity. So I bow to the limitations the concept imposes, just as we have always had to bow to the limitations dictated by the media. In this sense, there is a lesser element of diktat on Facebook than in the conventional media. Nobody is defining the news for us. More important, nobody is concealing the extent to which advertising pressure has defined the news. That is, after all, the big story missing from each day`s report, just as so much is missing because it would not please business interests.
I make no profit. I welcome exchange. I expunge vitriol and trivia. It is an idealistic enterprise, but it also calls attention to the fact that I`m a writer who would like some readers for his books. That`s my agenda. And for the most part everyone`s agenda on Facebook is far more transparent than, say, the agenda of Fox News.
I am engaged, like millions of others around the world, in a revolution. It`s not a revolution the mainstream media welcome. Their rapprochements with it have been tardy and grudging. They have noticed that when Tunisian demonstrators overthrew their selfish and deaf government they thanked Facebook, not their newspapers and not ours. Why was Facebook and not the vaunted free press of the Western world thanked by the exhilarated Tunisians? There ought to have been op-ed inquiries, studies, news stories even, but instead there was silence because the mainstream media knew they had been found wanting, not in their own conference rooms but in the streets.
In truth the Tunisians were thanking millions of populist newspapers. And I doubt I`m the first journalist who has dared to call them newspapers. They were thanking themselves as citizen journalists. They were thanking Sir Timothy John Berners-Lee, father of the worldwide web, and Mark Elliot Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook.
I think it was another young Algerian who planted these thoughts in my head. Hassen Chaoui has been sending me ingenious albums and photo collages, which I`ve often mounted on my Profile page. His first post was a whimsical use of Photoshop to dress Libya`s Muammar Qadaffi in flamboyant clothes, usually women`s. It was a way of laughing at someone who has taken himself very seriously for a long time on the world stage. Then Hassen began sending juxtapositions of Algerian leaders` photos "a leader, then a picture of an old man beaten by young cops or a boy in rags. The message was clear: an uncaring elite betraying an idealistic revolution. Words, which sometimes accompany Hassen`s work, were largely superfluous. Better than any newspaper, Hassen was making the point that leaders deserve our trust and respect only when they trust and respect us. The fact that he could so tellingly make this point with a handful of photographs and some popular software alerts us to the new journalism, one in which credentials are not nearly as important as guts and personal ingenuity.
I believe Hassen deserves a larger audience, and I`ve done my small part to create one for him. If you magnify this interchange millions of times all over the earth you get a small idea of how powerful these new newspapers are in the hands of ordinary people. Hassen, whose English is probably better than my French, struggles to read my posts in English because we are brother journalists who recognize that the world is no longer dependent on an official, credentialed press. In spite of geographic, cultural and linguistic barriers we have recognized that we have something to say to each other, something the traditional press could not accommodate.
Algerians are drawn to my first name, Djelloul. Some of them might even recognize that my last name, Marbrook, is the anglicized Arab name, Mabrouk, although it`s also a perfectly recognizable English name. They see that I wrote a book of poems called Far From Algiers. Some of them have read it, although it has not been translated into French or Arabic. This is how people are attracted to each other`s Facebook pages; they have common interests, they wish to reach out from their often-isolated corners of the world, and they wish to exchange ideas, stir things up. The mainstream media have failed to empower them in these endeavors, and I think the train has left the station. Ordinary people have seized the day, and not even language barriers are keeping them apart. I struggle with my French with renewed commitment and my Algerian friends struggle with their English. The mainstream media have rarely inspired this sort of longing for contact. They have, for the most part, talked at us, not to us. They have told us what interests us "and, more tragically, what shouldn`t interest us. What shouldn`t interest us, in their view, they simply omit. Hence, we haven`t heard much about Colonel Qadaffi`s golden dinar idea, nor have we heard much about who profits from our serial warmaking "and how they profit.
Djelloul Marbrook is a retired newspaperman. His second book of poems, Brushstrokes and Glances, was published by Deerbrook Editions on December 20, 2010. His first book of poems, Far From Algiers, won the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize from Kent State University in 2007 and was published in 2008. It won the International Book Award in 2010. His novella, Artemisia`s Wolf, will be published by Prakash Books of India in December. His novella, Saraceno, was recently published as an e-book. His story, Artists Hill, adapted from the second novel of an unpublished trilogy, won the Literal LattÃ© first prize in fiction in 2008. The pioneering e-book publisher, Online Originals (UK), published his novella, Alice MIller`s Room, in 1999.
Del`s book, Far From Algiers: http://upress.kent.edu/books/Marbrook_D.htm
New review of Far from Algiers: http://www.rattle.com/blog/2009/05/far-from-algiers-by-djelloul-marbrook/
Artists Hill, Literal LattÃ©`s fiction first prize: http://www.literal-latte.com/author/djelloulmarbrook/
His blog: http://www.djelloulmarbrook.com
His mother`s art: http://www.juanitaguccione.com
His aunt`s art: http://www.irenericepereira.com