Fitzpatrick’s Peer Review and Miller’s “Whatever Journalism”

As I was reading through some of text2cloud, a writing project created and run by Richard Miller, I found one “blog post” (do I call it that? maybe article?) entitled “Cut and Paste Reportage: The Rise of ‘Whatever Journalism‘” that stuck with me.

In it, Miller tells a narrative about a school incident that became a Letter to the Editor at a student-run newspaper, which then became a Jezebel article, which then became a HuffPost article, which then became an MSNBC article, which then became a Daily News blurb.

Beyond its trajectory (which definitely provides another example of media that does not necessarily follow Tom Standage’s vertical/horizontal or human/impersonal central source opposition), the story offers an interesting glimpse at contemporary plagiarism practices across digital media. Miller provides an in-depth analysis of each new source’s patch-writing and/or copying practices as the story moves along from site to site. He calls these practices and their products “Whatever Journalism”: news for an audience who is “incurious,” and unwilling to devote time to discover the truth of a situation beyond its initial gloss.

(Actually, it would be fascinating to see how much I just copied from the original blog post, unintentionally and/or due to my lack of sleep.)

After reading Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s book Planned Obsolescence, this blog post leapt out at me as a realized example of the niggling doubts I had in the back of my head during her chapter on peer review.

Her ideals of the peer review process, one in which the purpose is, “first, fostering discussion and feedback among scholars with the aim of strengthening the work that they produce; and second, providing a mechanism through which that work may be filtered for quality” (26 on Kindle), is wonderful. Yet, as an ideal, it doesn’t hold up as well when faced with actual, erring human beings.

Her discussion of the “karma”-based Slashdot, “highly male-dominated” as it was, instantly made me think of Reddit (35 on Kindle). In a forum system where you must be up-voted in order to be heard, the community-minded rules ask members to only down-vote a post/comment if they don’t think it contributes to the conversation, not just if they disagree with it. In practice, however, people are constantly down-voted for differences in opinion or even just for attempting to ask a question on an AMA post when other people want to be answered as well. The “karma” or attention greed, coupled with a lack of community-mindedness, can make any subreddit a really annoying place to be.

I was struck by the text2cloud blog post today because it provides another example of a peer review system that has failed somewhat. “Whatever Journalism” is the end result of less-than-ideal human conditions of laziness or, as Miller argues, lack of curiosity. If each member of these news source communities were the kind of tireless, community-minded people Fitzpatrick imagines, these kind of news stories would be stamped out or at least heavily criticized instead of taken as fact.

This is not to say that we shouldn’t strive for the ideal. I do think it’s achievable depending on the size and determination of the community. But we can’t forget that the nature of “peer” review is its dependence on other human beings, wonderful, “incurious,”  and imperfect as they are.

(Then again, perhaps I’m making a logical mistake here by thinking about a subreddit or online news audience as an example of a peer review community. What do you think?)


3 thoughts on “Fitzpatrick’s Peer Review and Miller’s “Whatever Journalism””

  1. Callie,

    Thinking about your closing statement about how “peer” review depends on “incurious” humans, I couldn’t help but think of one of our previous class discussions about netiquette and one of my previous blog posts about blogging communities as panopticons. As much as sites like Reddit may publish “rules” to follow when up- or down-voting something, we can only assume that those rules will be effective to a certain point. And not just because we’re “incurious” beings but because we are wont to react vehemently to things we don’t like or agree with (see: my reaction on tweetkus, for example).

    But I think that’s part of what makes peer review simultaneously beautiful and incredibly frustrating: it is posited as an ideal way to receive feedback/constructive criticism, yet it depends on imperfect beings utilizing measures/rules in their own imperfect ways.

    1. Chris,

      I think you’re totally right. I think by “incurious,” an adjective I stole from Miller, he means unwilling to take the extra step of independent research–in other words, because we get so wrapped up in our immediate reaction (especially to buzzwords like “racism” or “sexism”) we never look for further information. Which is exactly what you’re describing, I think.

  2. About five several years in the past i shed some bodyweight through ingesting the eight glasses of h2o on a daily basis one particular ought to, and making improved food options. It absolutely was about five kgs in a 2 7 days period of time, and i recall anyone created a remark.. oh.. thats not fats dropped thats drinking water slimming capsule..

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