Clay Johnson argues for infoveganism at the Center for Civic Media. Photo Credit: Flickr user J. Nathan Matias.
Noteworthy journalism and media books by Knight partners keep coming. These two made me want to flash back to two previous blogs:
Killing the Messenger: Thomas Peele of the Bay Area News Group has written a story that cries out for a movie deal. It’s about “radical faith, racism’s backlash and the assassination of a journalist.” In vivid detail, Killing the Messenger gives you the big picture around the death of Chauncey Bailey, the Oakland Post editor shotgunned in 2007 on a street corner for investigating a troubled local business called Your Muslim Bakery. Bailey was the first journalist murdered for trying to do journalism in this country since Don Bolles was killed in 1976 by a car bomb for exposing mafia ties to Arizona land deals.
Peele tells the history of Black Muslims, leading you to Oakland where the movement became a cover for a violent cult run by Yusuf Bey, who beat and raped dozens of women he claimed were his wives and fathered more than 40 children. Bey’s 21-year-old son, Yusuf Bey IV, took over the bakery after his father’s death. It was Bey IV who was convicted of masterminding the Bailey murder. Bey IV and an accomplice are looking at life without parole. The trigger man, who confessed, got 25 years.
Knight Foundation’s role was to grant the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education $125,000 to create the Chauncey Bailey project – so nonprofit, commercial and student journalists from all media could investigate the murder. Thomas Peele was an important member of that project.
Did the project matter? Said District Attorney Nancy E. O’Malley: “I would especially like to recognize and acknowledge the Chauncey Bailey Project (which) worked diligently and tirelessly to ensure that the defendants responsible for these senseless murders were brought to justice." A public official speaks highly of journalists! Even so, you won’t find those words in Peele’s book. Like many good investigative reporters, he does not like to put himself into the story. I spoke about this issue at last year’s investigative reporting convention. My question: If investigative journalists don’t explain their impact, who will?
The Information Diet -- Clay Johnson is the former open-data guru who directed Sunlight Labs and before that founded Blue State Digital, running Barack Obama’s online campaign. The Information Diet argues that “the modern human animal spends upwards of 11 hours out of every 24 in a state of constant consumption. Not eating, but gorging on information ceaselessly spewed from the screens and speakers we hold dear. Just as we have grown morbidly obese on sugar, fat, and flour, so, too, have we become gluttons for texts, instant messages, emails, RSS feeds, downloads, videos, status updates, and tweets.”
The metaphor seems exactly right to me. I wrote about this last summer in a blog post about “comfort news,” which tastes good, but isn’t really good for you. In the digital age, we can surround ourselves with just the news and information we want. The problem is that what seems most compelling can also be the most inaccurate, unfair, sensational and false. Johnson explains how this leads to “information obesity.”
So what’s the answer? Johnson calls it “Info Veganism,” which isn’t the best name for what he is really suggesting, which is simply to watch what you eat, news-wise. He’s on a better track in this video when he talks about a “whole news movement” – increasing the numbers of news literate people who think and talk about what they are doing.
Johnson has thought hard about the similarities between information and food. We suffer, in both cases, from diseases of abundance, and need to think differently about the issues that raises. And in a world where “pizza tastes better than broccoli, opinion tastes better than news,” I’d argue that the ongoing work of Sunlight Foundation, a Knight grantee, to make raw public data digestible, is the right kind of effort – not so much info veganism as a search for a really great-tasting broccoli soup.