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Greeks Bearing Blogs, and Brickbats

Traditional journalists, and traditional journalism educators, remain pretty suspicious of blogging in lots of places. But if what I heard in two days of conferencing in Athens and Thessaloniki (the latter is Greece’s second-largest city) is an indication of the overall situation, there’s a larger-than-usual gulf between older and newer media in the land where inquiry and reason helped shape Western culture.

The problems people see with blogging and other conversational/social media were high on other speakers’ topic lists. In particular, worries about anonymous (or pseudonymous) online attacks came up again and again.

It’s a real issue. But it’s part of the larger issue of how we help consumers of news and information be better at separating what’s reliable and what isn’t. Here’s a slide I showed in my talk:

Slide about anonymous speech

The point is that while anonymity is a vital tool to preserve, we should strongly encourage people to stand behind their own words. And, crucially, we should have a default position when we see anonymous speech: Don’t trust it.

In fact, when it comes to anonymous or pseudonymous personal attacks, the default position should be to actively disbelieve what we’ve read or heard. We should not give the cowards who post such things any slack at all. There are exceptions, but rare ones.

Like students everywhere, the ones I met at Aristotle University’s Department of Journalism and Mass Communication were bright and eager to figure out their future. They are heading into a journalism market dominated by what sounds to me like something of a cartel at the pro-journalism level. But Greece isn’t immune from economic realities, and it’s a reasonable bet that what’s happening to Greek media companies will look, in the end, like what’s happening in the U.S.

So, as I told them, I hope they’ll consider inventing their own jobs.

Craig Wherlock, a Brit teaching English in Greece, blogged about the day in Thessaloniki here. He points to other coverage, mostly in Greek:

Ανέκδοτο περί συνεδρίου συμμετοχικής δημοσιογραφίας
Όταν τα παραδοσιακά μέσα κάνουν έφοδο στα νέα…
Συνέδριο; Δημοσιογραφία;
Συμμετοχική Δημοσιογραφία: Blog και Νέα Μέσα
Δημοσιογραφία και πολίτες ΙI ή ένα συνέδριο γι’ αυτά
Livestreaming από τη διημερίδα
What is journalism?
Λα-λα Λόλα να ένα blog
New Media Conference συμπεράσματα
Social Media Tales: ένα συνέδριο κι η σφαγή των αμάχων
Οι δικές μου εντυπώσεις από τη “διημερίδα”

Off topic: I was lucky enough to visit the royal tombs in Vergina, not far from Thessaloniki. The director of the museum there gave several of us a private tour (including a look — no photos allowed — at Philip II’s bones) of a site that makes the word “history” come truly into focus.

I can’t wait to go back for a longer visit.

11 Comments on “Greeks Bearing Blogs, and Brickbats”

  1. #1 Nikos Anagnostou
    on Oct 22nd, 2008 at 8:03 am

    Dan, it’s been a pleasure meeting you in person in Thessaloniki. Despite the impression you quite justifiably got from the conference, there is a budding blogging community in Greece, with several successes in citizen journalism. But this has to be the subject of another conference, hopefully, a blogger initiated one.

  2. #2 Dan Gillmor
    on Oct 22nd, 2008 at 8:21 am

    Thanks, Nikos — I do think that there’s a willingness to listen, however, despite the fears. Attitudes take time to change….

  3. #3 magica
    on Oct 22nd, 2008 at 8:48 am

    As Nikos said, it will be good if we meet you again in a “different” conference for blogging and citizen journalism. In a conference where people “don’t afraid” the blogging and bloggers.

    You are always welcome in Thessaloniki.

  4. #4 Seth Finkelstein
    on Oct 22nd, 2008 at 9:44 am

    “the default position should be …”

    Yes, Dan. It should. It should. IT SHOULD.

    It isn’t.

    Now what?

    [It’s not a very good answer to say you’ll just keep repeating it – that doesn’t go too far in terms of solution.]

  5. #5 Dan Gillmor
    on Oct 23rd, 2008 at 1:39 am

    Seth, it’s a primary element of the new book I’m working on. We have to help people become more critical thinkers. This will take parents, schools and (especially) traditional media’s involvement.

    It’s not an overnight thing, but a generational project….

  6. #6 Nikos Anagnostou
    on Oct 23rd, 2008 at 5:14 am

    Dan, I noticed that you changed your post (adding the anonymity part) to an extend that anonymity became the major theme of the post. What, really, drove you to make this change?

  7. #7 Craig Wherlock
    on Oct 23rd, 2008 at 1:08 pm

    I think the conference has sparked off something of a war between bloggers and the more traditional journalists/ journalism educators. The vast majority of the Geek language bloggers mentioned above were highly critical the running of the conference and the stance of many of the academics taking part.

    I think the organisers failed to understand that bloggers, unlike most of the students who attended the conference, are not dependent on the professors/professional journalists for either grades or future career connections.

    In that respect the debate sparked off by the event was a breath of fresh air and a warning to some that the ability by a few to set and control a news agenda is coming under threat.

    BTW you go rave reviews from the bloggers.

  8. #8 Delia
    on Oct 23rd, 2008 at 6:58 pm

    I agree with Nikos and strongly disagree with that statement on anonymity. Especially with the way it is constructed: it uses *an example* of a negative use of anonymity (personal attacks) to justify dismissing anonymous criticism without considering the quality of the criticism.


    P.S. Valid criticism that spells out the logical steps does not need an identifiable “author” — it is just as true (and useful) if you don’t know the author as if you do. It is a mistake to ignore it just because it is anonymous.


  9. #9 Jon Garfunkel
    on Oct 23rd, 2008 at 8:56 pm

    re: “the default position should be to actively disbelieve what we’ve read or heard.”

    What Seth said.

    As I like to say in my office, da-fault is with da-user. (I kid! I kid!)

    Shankar Vedantam of the WashPost has been reporting for the last year about the futility of fighting rumors. Ping us when you’ve re-programmed human psychology.

    Haven’t we discussed this before here…? A long time ago, in a campaign moment far, far away, you were trying to get people to pay no attention to the Hillary Clinton “Big Brother” video. My sense is, the thing that drives viral information is the sourcelessness of it.

    (and what do you have to say to the fact that the author(s) of the bestselling book of all time are unknown…?)

  10. #10 Dan Gillmor
    on Oct 24th, 2008 at 3:02 am


    It was one of the items that kept coming up during the conference, and something I’m especially concerned with in this era.

    People are free to not use their names. But they should not start off with the same credibilty of people who do; it should be much less, and when it’s an attack there should be less than zero credibility.

  11. #11 Dan Gillmor
    on Oct 24th, 2008 at 3:08 am

    Craig, I’m sorry to hear that bloggers feel so aggrieved with the pro journalists and educators. I know the conference organizers were trying to spark a real conversation.