Facts are expensive, invaluable really

As the category for this post suggests, here is something done well: an RSA speech by Timothy Garton Ash. “Against every post-modernist in the world, Timothy Garton Ash maintains that there are facts, and that establishing them is both a political and a moral imperative – and an aesthetic one, too.”

I particularly like when he mentions Guardian Editor CP Scott’s quote: “Comment is free, but facts are sacred,” following it up with his own modern twist: “Comment is free, but facts are expensive.” It is the new(ish) reality of the world we live in that high-quality fact hunters are being replaced with, as Ash puts it, 21-year-olds just out of school that all desire to be columnists who want to give their views on everything before they really know about anything.

He also outlines two groups in the speech: Techno-optimists and Scripto-pessimists. “Techno-optimists” are believers that current technology (specifically as it relates to relaying facts to a wide group) will allow us to “all know more about everything and know it better” and that there’s “nothing that old media could do that new media can’t do better”. Scripto-pessimists feel that despite the apparent benefits of new media, the quality of the media we’re getting (again, from a factual, news-relaying point of view) is degrading at a time when we need it the most (due to an increasingly globalized world).

I went to journalism school at a pretty interesting time, at the turn of the century, just as “new media” was coming into play. Because of this, I was trained in a very “scripto-pessimist” version of journalism. However, I’m also of the generation that largely built this new media, and I’m full enough of the wiki-powered, open-source kool-aid to feel I’m in the techno-optimist camp.

Ash states that the scripto-pessimists have yet to be proven wrong, and I strongly agree with him. Perhaps it’s just the “optimist” bit, but there’s no going back now and so we need to all try harder to prove them wrong — as consumers demanding it of the media; as the media demanding it of its journalists; and as journalists demanding it, ultimately, of themselves.

Cheers to Richard for tipping me off to the video.

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