Are we the signal or the noise?

I recorded this video for a project that the Guardian is doing with Current TV. I recorded it after reading a post by a friend and one of my heroes

, Steve Yelvington, in the wake of the recent conflagration over Barack Obama and his former pastor Jeremiah Wright. Steve asked whether we were listening. We could be interpreted as journalists, politicians, pundits as well as the public.

Today I see journalism falling into two traps. One is the passive abandonment of responsibility that sometimes comes along with the “objective” mode, and the other is the crass exploitation of divisive opportunities that you see from infotainers like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Lou Dobbs.

And that brings us back to my point. Is anyone listening? And is the press helping us all listen? Are we working to further understanding?

Or are journalists just parroting words and perpetuating the racial divide that has scarred this country throughout its history?

It’s one of the things that many journalists don’t do enough of when they blog: Listen. That’s one of the important skills for a blogging journalist. Blogging is not just publishing my thoughts. I can do that in any old media. Blogging is about the conversation.

Why I’ve chosen to do the kind of journalism I do is that I see great potential in being able to foster civic discussion and participation using the internet. It hearkens to the ideals of journalism that I learned as a j-school student. I really don’t understand why more journalists don’t see it.

As I said in the video and the discussion that followed on Current, I want to find ways to expand who is taking part in these discussions and actually explore important issues. As a journalist, I can add some reporting to provide a for some of the issues, which isn’t to say that the participants can’t add their own reporting. There is such scope to explore the issues of the day and be in a constant, rolling, evolving conversation. It’s exciting territory to explore.

But too often, either through neglect or active provocation, the media are turning these online spaces into brawls. It’s not surprising. It mirrors talk radio, cable news shouting matches and some bizarre version of Jerry Springer for intellectuals. The media is just turning the internet into what it knows. Bring on the noise.

But isn’t good journalism supposed to amplify the signal, find it in the noise? Aren’t journalists supposed to help find the important data points, turning points to help people and themselves make sense of the world? It’s an abdication of our professional responsibility if we stop trying to find the signal and become the noise.

That’s not going to save our profession. It’s not going to help use cut through the clutter in this very busy media landscape. But it’s easier to try to shout above the crowd than to find the wisdom in it. It’s easier to be provocative than to be thought provoking. I don’t have much time for it, and increasingly, neither do our former audiences.