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Meta-information, the subversion of receptors

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The traditional media form puts limits on the path to the real. The medium, whatever it is, always puts itself in an intermediate position - it is in its etymological nature - between the real and the spectator. Its function is to bring the real to the spectator. Live is, in this spirit, a will to reduce the distance between them, to simulate an immediate real (therefore without a mediator). This initiative of the media to weld the real to the spectator as much as possible, to reduce the distance, is an impossible step; because the meaning and the direction of the movement are always the same: from the real to the spectator.

When the spectator himself reverses the direction of media logic, that is to say when he decides to go towards reality, and no longer to wait for it to be brought to him on a screen, then the media will tremble; for they will lose all intermediation function, all media status.

This action of inversion of the media meaning is based on the desire for meta-information, in the sense that it is a question of going beyond information to look for pieces of reality. This desire for meta-information is based on a logic of action and on an ethic of taking responsibility. It can be applied in many different ways, depending on individuals, their capacities, their objectives and their intentions. The desire for meta-information tends to become a horizon that concentrates and polymerizes all information practices. It develops in the informational multitude, in the confusing prism it offers, but it is a possible path to greater clarity and intelligence. By experimenting with the different possible forms of hypotheses and probabilities, it is consistent with the complex mechanics of current systems. The desire for meta-information does not deny uncertainties; on the contrary, it integrates them. It works - in the manner of the quantitative physicist - with probabilities and uncertainties with an objective of knowledge and orientation in the chaotic universe of representations of the world.

● Traditionally, the journalist is a reducer of complexity; this is his or her function as a popularizer, a transmitter of information and knowledge. This noble function is what confers the very special status of the journalist in our Western world. He enjoys privileges and bases his identity on concepts that have the force of myth and sacredness: objectivity, independence, freedom of conscience, Truth, Democracy, etc. These myths forge the identity and the functional enclosure of this profession. (1).

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How, in the profound hyper-informational transformation we have just described, in which the receiver of information is in the midst of information, free of all his choices and initiatives, how can the journalist still play his role?

Today, the public no longer asks journalists to reduce the complexities of the world so that they can better understand it; for two reasons: 1) they no longer trust them, and 2) they know that the world is now too complex for them to be satisfied with a single "angle of attack", a single interpretation, or an artificially trenchant Manichean opinion. He has the exact opposite requirement of the journalist. He asks him to help him to present all the content, in all its diversity and contradiction, to show him the widest possible spectrum of interpretations. He no longer expects him to simplify complexity but, on the contrary, to favour complex points of view.

● This fundamental change in the expected role of journalists obliges them to undertake without delay a real professional revolution. Producing news online requires a very different skill set from that required in traditional journalism; cyberjournalism must tame the grammar of interactive navigation and the rhetoric of hypertext. The investment that journalists have to make is an opportunity for them to reinvest in a new intermediation function; this investment is heavy and cannot be replaced by the simple and clumsy transposition of the traditional medium onto the digital network. This transmutation requires them not only professional know-how but also almost encyclopaedic skill because of the very particular nature of hypertext writing.

In this context, traditional journalists are rather outmoded; they are marginalized by newcomers who are gradually taking strategic positions in the field of online information provision. The new cyberjournalists are more modest in their professional ethics than their colleagues in the traditional media, but certainly more adapted to the expectations of their audiences and therefore more in tune with a more civic-minded ethic. The public of this new journalism is informed by multiple mouse clicks in the wide range offered by this new medium. They navigate from an article to a dossier, from an expert's commentary to a news actor's website visit, they watch the video of one news protagonist and can buy, online, the book of another. Nicolas Pélissier (2) notes that we are thus witnessing the emergence of a new kind of journalism, more contextual, more referential, breaking with the committed model of the French opinion press.

Will journalism gain objectivity in this transformation? The problem lies elsewhere, since the limits of objectivity are relegated to the level of the sources; the information offered to the public on the network is a choice made from a vast array, itself composed of a multitude of subjectivities. The journalist proposes this choice, but he or she now does so under the public eye, which can check the relevance and honesty of this selection at any time. The journalist abandons his traditional role of mediator and information expert, leaving it to the public to construct his own account of reality.

● The story of the information thus changes surreptitiously. It is no longer an indisputable narrative, composed of a succession of scenes reflecting the linearity of event segments. It is now hypotheses, possibilities, possibly staged, and perhaps fiction. Meta-information actualizes another configuration of truth: that of the multitude of possible points of view. In this way, it implements individual trajectories in a collective space.

This new attitude to information is not only manifested in the context of new networked digital media. It is now our way of consuming traditional media. The way we watch television is profoundly changed by it. We know how to spot the slightest staging effects and 'monocular' vision of reality. We decipher more and more the slightest attempts to influence, the slightest demarcations of a discourse that claims to be objective. Our desire for meta-information reshapes the nature of the belief and credibility we manifest with regard to the information disseminated by the media. Individuals are gradually learning not to be fooled, even if they sometimes demonstrate credulity that is now voluntary.

● Media consumers infuse the signs they perceive into another space they know or know exists. They establish a depth of meaning between spaces. Watching the news now refers to other dimensions of information, other personal or collective experiences, other media. The unequivocal domination of traditional media is in the process of extinction, but these media themselves are not destined to disappear. They are embedded in other spaces, finding their place and their specificity. Consumers of information move from one informational space to another space of meaning; there is permeability between spaces and fluidity of complementary relationships. This collective enrichment is a source of more knowledge; it can also be a source of more confusion. Individual reactions take on the fluctuating and unexpected character of any complex organism. In the meta-information system, individuals move from one space to another, forging their consciousness of things on a set of assumptions, probabilities and values and no longer only on a selection of information disseminated by those who had the exclusive privilege of holding it.

(1) See Jacques LE BOHEC, Les mythes professionnels des journalistes, L'Harmattan, 2000.

(2) Nicolas PELISSIER, Ibid.

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