The Self-Checking Public Forum

In high school, I debated in an event called Public Forum (PF). This event was the best for the lay-judges to attend because the style of debate was intended to be presentable to a public audience in a comprehensible way. In contrast, a different event (labeled Policy debate) often devolves into something less than language at times. This is why I prefer public forum. It’s accessible to the public, which is a much more effective and useful form of communication (and journalism) than “policy” style—using technical terms far above the public jargon, and “speaking faster” than the public mind can keep up with.

There are some dangers that accompany a public forum, however. One of my biggest worries (coinciding with a worry and quality of argument culture as discussed in class) is the devaluation of expertise/the lack of fact checking. When a topic is submitted to the public forum, the public seems to have a strong tendency to make unfounded commentary which perpetuates into an undesirable “journalism,” or spreading of information.

I ran into a blog post about how a Wikipedia contributor was an expert in his field, and he wrote some in depth but factual information on his field of expertise. This information was later “stripped” for a less technical and more general explanation of  the transformation problem in economics. I feel that, in this case, the public forum of Wikipedia had a negative effect on the dispersal of information. Wikipedia is intended to be a web encyclopedia. Encyclopedias, to my knowledge, contain both broad and in-depth information on a topic. If the public forum were to have improved the article, I feel that adding a general explanation to the technical one would have been most appropriate and most appreciated. That way, those seeking technical information would find it, and those looking for overviews would also find what they were looking for. Even now, I am depending on this blogger’s opinion and “expertise” in this matter, because to me, the articles have much of the same technical information and equations. And perhaps they do now, since this blogger’s article was posted nearly six years ago. If the article information has indeed be rectified, then this is an example of how the public forum positively checks itself through the medium of many users.

Another facet of the problem with the lack of fact checking is what the original information turns into. Consider the game telephone in the worst case scenario. The purpose of journalism, if it undergoes a public forum like this worst-case telephone game, will never be achieved. This reminds me of a friend’s video response to “like a boss” jokes. He found that people were using the words “like a boss” in completely inappropriate (syntactically, not morally) ways. This devolution of the words “like a boss” is like the devolution of information in a public forum, or like the devolution of a word/phrase in the game telephone. And yet, the public continues to make “like a boss” jokes without any thought as to what “like a boss” actually means. But even the evidence of this video shows how the public will again check itself because the public is made up of individual thinkers.

Overall, I’m a fan of public forums. There is a time and place for “policy” and technical journalism, but I feel that because journalism is like a mediator and is very much a conduit between the public and other entities, a public forum is an adequate arena for journalism. 

Carli Hanson

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