OpenFile – An Argument Analysis
A recent flare up between Jay Rosen and Joshua Errett has provided an interesting opportunity to test some of my ideas on diagramming arguments. Errett’s piece has been covered elsewhere, but I want to look specifically at his comments to Jay over Twitter, and determine whether or not he’s being accurate in defense of his piece.
Key for the Argument outline below:
– All evidence supporting an argument is nested underneath it
– All arguments/conclusions are red
– General facts (that I accept as good) are in black
Joshua’s Argument (taken from his piece)
- [After his description of Openfile]
- There’s a lot going against OpenFile
- Citizen Journalism sites have not been successful
- [None cited]
- The participatory journalism model has failed
- NowPublic is dying
- Others are so obscure Google was required to find more examples
- Sites like Youtube/Twitter often hit stories first
- They sometimes get stories first because everything is posted there
- It’s difficult to harness them for consistently
- Dependability is the primary problem of participatory sites
- No consistent topic
- No consistent time frame
- No consistent tone
- Exe – cited OpenFile piece
- Recommendations for OpenFile’s success are slim
- Author has never seen participatory journalism work to any degree of success
- Citizen Journalism sites have not been successful
Assuming I’ve correctly characterized Joshua’s argument here, we can see he has five main points supporting his argument that OpenFile has a lot going against it. The argument is reasonably well structured, though the last point gets a little recursive, I’ll let it slide this time. Two things to note are the lack of evidence for his first point, and his use of a specific OpenFile article for his fourth point.
I won’t dive into the argument head first today. Instead, I’ll follow the Twitter exchange piece by piece, adding my comments along the way. I’ve kept the comments below as close to their Twitter counterparts as possible while keeping them readable.
Jay – Dude at Toronto Weekly dumps on OpenFile. But check the comments, he got the entire story wrong!
True to headline writing in the Internet sphere, this one is a bit over the top. If we boil down Joshua’s story to “OpenFile has some interesting things going for it, but it has a number of challenges as well,” then Jay’s statement doesn’t really hold up. However, if we go one level deeper, there is some room for critique in both the characterization of OpenFile, and in incorrect points (a majority of which would have to be wrong if the “entire story” is to be proven wrong).
Joshua – course. How did I mess up the story?
I never called the OpenFile site “citizen journalism” so comments aren’t fair to the piece. Maybe read again?
This statement is technically true, but I think very misleading. I think any reasonable person would read this piece’s points against OpenFile’s success and infer that Joshua was placing OpenFile in the category of citizen journalism. He even cites an OpenFile article as a case in point of problems that arise with Citizen Journalism. Straight from the piece:
…Citizen journalism sites are, by nature, all-over-the-place on all these fronts.
For instance, a post currently on OpenFile calls fringe mayor candidate Sonny Yeung “among the most measured and pragmatic” of all the politicians running for the position…
Does he directly call OpenFile a citizen journalism outlet? No, but it’s strongly implied and clearly communicated to anyone reading the piece.
Jay – You show no grasp of what OpenFile is about. You compare it to NowPublic, but its model is wholly different. You’re confused.
While I think Jay is being unnecessarily abrasive, I do believe he has a valid point. The comparison to NowPublic, and the greater point that the participatory journalism model has failed, only hold relevance if OpenFile is a participatory journalism institution.
I haven’t read deeply into OpenFile’s model, but the first comment from the person who works there indicates that they only hire professional journalists for reporting. The audience participation only comes in for topic/piece selection. Most media scholars I know would say by those standards, OpenFile is clearly not a participatory journalism institution, which generally requires a large portion (if not all) of the content on a site to be created directly by users.
Joshua – OpenFile faces the same challenges as NowPublic and anything driven by public. As demonstrated. Not confused, but slightly critical.
Here, it becomes clear that Joshua seems to have overstated his argument. Suggesting that a site that depends on users to write their articles faces the same challenges as one who depends on them for topic selection is a logical chasm he jumps cleanly, while Jay and I do not. A review of his supporting points shows that they are largely focused on equating these two sites, though common sense tells us the challenges they face are likely to be very different.
After all, it’s what thing to ask what a person wants to know, but another to ask them to research and write an article on it. Once scaled to the level of a news organization, there will be vastly different challenges between these two organizations, especially from the audience participation perspective.
Joshua – never wrote the models were the same. Not even inferred. Being critical is being supportive. You’re too defensive.
While I do agree that Jay was being too defensive, the rest of the sentence is untrue. The challenges that Joshua describes require a model equivalence between the two organizations… and while he never comes out and says it, I don’t think anyone who doesn’t know what OpenFile is could read that piece and not equate it to NowPublic in every substantial way.
Jay – Your understanding of OpenFile is incompetent; your story requires a correction. You failed to make clear how the site works.
While I don’t agree that there needs to be a correction (a healthy debate is enough for me at this point), I do agree that the piece was, at best, unclear about how OpenFile works. As to whether or not Joshua’s understanding of it is incompetent… I find myself tentatively voting yes for the context of this article. Every point Joshua makes suggests that the public writes the articles on OpenFile, something which the company specifically avoids. Joshua himself might understand the situation better, but the framing of his piece speaks directly to the contrary.
Johsua – editorial wasn’t about explaining the mechanism of OpenFile. It was predicting whether it could succeed.
A solid point from Joshua, but rather than absolve him from criticism, it only provides the motive behind his error. I’m completely in support of Joshua’s right to write a piece predicting the fate of OpenFile, but if he uses as primary justification for his critique an organization which is fundamentally different, and then harps on those flaws as drawbacks as things for Openfile to worry about, then he’s wide open to criticism about misunderstanding OpenFile.
It would be analogous to talking about the challenges apples face by noting all the problems oranges have been through. One can only say that insofar as an apple acts like an orange, and the forecaster would then be liable for linking those two things in the first place.
Johsua – OpenFile faces challenges. If you don’t think so, you’ve been in academia too long.
This is true, but doesn’t indicate whether Joshua correctly elucidated those challenges in his column, or whether or not he made a bad comparison to a fundamentally different company in doing so.
Joshua – attacking journalist/calling names because you disagree w an editorial is unbecoming of man your stature.
Jay was unnecessarily harsh, so I consider this fair play. Nothing in it provides justification for his position though.
While Joshua makes some fair points talking to Jay, he never really justifies equating OpenFile with companies who depend solely on user generated content. As a result, I have to agree with Jay that the piece is misleadingly written and largely unjustified.
Filed under: Analysis, Arguments, Media | 13 Comments