Witnesses, Gatekeepers and History

In an issue Washington Internet Daily last month there is (as one co-worker put it) “double-barreled” coverage of the Senate and House Judiciary hearings on the Google-Yahoo partnership (aka GooHoo, a term I will no longer be using).

I covered the Senate hearing in the morning, coincidentally ending across the table from Kara Swisher, which was pleasantly surprising as you rarely see Valley writers out in DC. There are enough accounts of the hearing out there that I won’t re-hash it, but this morning a coworker sent me a link to a story by a longtime political and technology journalist, who I have deep respect but don’t see very often. I noted that I hadn’t seen him there, and was told he had watched the hearing by webcast.

Whoa. That wasn’t in the story.

Does it matter?

Media serve as gatekeepers to history for many reasons, most of all access. I can go places that the average person cannot, and get into rooms or talk to people by virtue of my status as “journalist.” On the other hand, because this hearing was webcast, a talented writer was able to pick up on the same issues and notice the same things that I did, without leaving his desk.

Why aren’t more people doing this? For all the griping about access to politicians and the exclusion of “citizen journalists” and bloggers from the Capitol press corps, many of the newsworthy events around here are routinely broadcast on the Internet for anyone to watch. For free. Easily.

It’s also easy to keep a record of “what happened.” Recently I was challenged on something that I wrote, and was able to go back to the digital recording I made of the event and confirm that what I wrote was accurate. But anyone who went there had the same capability that I did. Telling me that “I would not have…” means that you don’t know, you don’t have a record.

You’re watched by cameras everywhere you go. If you’re a public figure or politician, there is always a microphone nearby. Webcasting means people the world over can witness events that previously would have been limited to a select few who could get into the room, either by arriving early (or paying a line-stander, something I’ll write about another day) or having the right credential.

In other words, everyday people can bear witness to events, record them for accuracy and document them. Not all of it may rise to the level of what professionals do. But it’s out there.

The little things and the questions may be hard to ask, but the big picture can be painted by anyone now, and that means the truth will always be there. It’s not “social” media, it’s not even “the first draft of history.” If it happened, and you recorded it, it’s the truth.

Aaron Brazell

Aaron Brazell is a Baltimore, MD-based WordPress developer, a co-founder at WP Engine, WordPress core contributor and author. He wrote the book WordPress Bible and has been publishing on the web since 2000. You can follow him on Twitter, on his personal blog and view his photography at The Aperture Filter.