NEW YORK TIMES vs. JOURNALISM 2.0
A slide from Jean Min, deputy chief, international division of Ohmynews.com [Enlarge]
Print media is dying and online news will have to support the whole journalistic enterprise - only nobody knows how, or what it should look like. That was the vibe I took away from the completely wonderful International Symposium on Online Journalism in Austin, Texas last weekend.
In my mind, the rock stars of the whole affair were OhMyNews (English version). They're a distributed citizen journalism news organization in Korea with an editorial staff and staff reporters. They're hugely popular and make the news into an unprecedented conversation between newsmakers, news reporters and news readers – all in one place. Compare that to the (mostly) one-way, top-down, trying-to-keep-up approach of New York Times Digital. I poked a bit of fun at the NYTimes in my presentation as well, saying how they should be helping bridge the gap between news and conversation about the news, as exemplified by The Annotated New York Times and their jaw-dropping RSS Feeds. Really, this is the shining clear path NYTimes.com would be smart to follow.
Len Apcar, Editor-in-Chief of NYTimes.com, must be credited with closely watching emerging social internet technologies. He attended BloggerCon 2003 and talked to JD Lasica about his interest in social software.
My conversation with Len, unfortunately, left a bad taste in my mouth. I asked what he thought about a particular web site from my presentation. He told me that, and much much more - I was silently aghast. I think he realized he'd spoken a bit too freely and insisted it was "off the record." This happens at conferences a lot, and I'm still getting used to it. Again he said "You know that's off the record right?" And I said uhh, I guess. "Whaddya mean 'you guess'? You'll keep that off the record, yes or no?" He was getting all worked up, so I said "yes." Then he kind of went off on bloggers. "You bloggers, you all think you're journalists now. You want a front row seat and you don't know what your doing." Buh?
Then he went off on my getting into a John Edwards press conference as a credentialled blogger. I showed a humorous video excerpt of this as part of my presentation. "Why didn't you ask John Edwards a question? Why were you there then? Who were you representing? Why weren't you representing your readers?" Suddenly I was on the hot seat, representing the entirety of citizen bloggerdom. If Len had paid a little closer attention to my presentation, he'd have heard me call myself a "hobby journalist" and admit to being a complete amateur. Part of the point of my Edwards video is that, indeed, bloggers are new at this game and have a ways to go figuring out our proper role. But also: I was providing a first-person account of the event; my perspective. And that's important.
I've always advocated bloggers building bridges with the MSM. Bloggers have such a combatitive relationship with the MSM right now, but we'd all be better off with a symbiotic relationship. My presentation (which I'll put up) detailed some possible stepping stones to making that happen. Bridge the gap between the static news and the dynamic news conversation.
But after this conversation with Len, I found myself in the uncomfortable company of Power Line's John Hinderaker. Not because of the content, of course, but because the Gray Lady is sneering at us from her journalistic throne. A jewel-encrusted throne, too – I'm told NYTimes.com clears $40 million a year.
Well listen up, Gray Lady. You'd do well to change your attitude toward the peasants, because we're building houses, villages and cities throughout the kingdom - and we don't need permits.
WHY THE MAINSTREAM MEDIA IS FUCKED
Go where the money is. Give the people what they want, or at least what gives us more eyeballs and more ad revenue. Lowest common denominator. Forget the public interest. Forget journalism. Don't worry about the blogs, nobody has heard of them. People like weather, why not start a weather blog? And oh yeah - go where the money is.
This was the attitude at the end of today's International Symposium on Online Journalism. Specifically, this was the message I got from a nice fellow named Rusty on a panel called Business Model: Online Advertising is Breaking Records. But Is It Enough to Finance Journalism? And I'm afraid it made my stomach turn.
Rusty is a brilliant businessman. He's as witty and nice a guy as I'll ever meet. I like Rusty. But his "go where the money is" approach to journalism is dropping a heavy brick on the gas pedal driving mainstream media off a cliff. My question to Rusty: If you want to go where the money is, and where the eyeballs are, why don't you work in porn? I woke up in my hotel this morning listening to Howard Stern talk about how much he wants to bang a chick on Survivor because after 9 days of starving, she's really skinny and sexy. No comment as to whether I laughed. Crass is funny, sex sells, and that's why Howard is huge (ahem). But he's not exactly a shining beacon of journalism.
Don't get me wrong. There's nothing wrong with the business side of media trying to maximize profits. That's what makes the whole thing go 'round. And from what I've heard at this conference, it's getting harder and harder to finance big media journalism. What I have a problem with is dumbing down journalism in order to "save" journalism. What I have a problem with is profit pressure making journalists into glorified sandwich artists. What I have a problem with is fucking weather blogs.
EXHIBIT A: THE PUBLIC HAS LOST TRUST IN THE MEDIA
Gallup poll on media trust, screenshots from Blogumentary
The public's trust in the media has taken a dramatic decline. Why? Try the leadup to Iraq. WMD. A series of fake journalists, culminating in Jayson Blair and the resignation of Howell Raines. And how about "spin alley"? How about, lowest-common-denominator, fluffy pack journalism? Please note, this study was done before Rathergate.
EXHIBIT B: THE MEDIA HAS FAILED THE PUBLIC
New York City, circa 1960
Journalism followed consumer whims pre-9/11, and it resulted in a drastic reduction in foreign news coverage. Middle East? Who cares, I don't live there. So when we were attacked, Americans didn't know by whom. And they still don't. As Dan Gillmor says, most Americans still falsely believe "Saddam basically patted the 9/11 terrorists on the back" on the way to their hideous mission. This is a failure of media.
Yeah, so let's start a weather blog. Let's have a wacky contest. Let's have a profit orgy and writhe in the casualties of war. So much for little things like, oh I don't know... democracy, and the fourth estate. At least we gave the people what they wanted!
Too dramatic? Maybe, but I'll tell you what, it's because I care. I care what happens to this country. I care about civic discourse. I care about hearing what every single person thinks. I care about telling the truth.
I think Rusty would refer to this as "medicinal journalism." Unfortunately, I think Rusty is correct that many Americans don't want to take their "medicine." Still, we have to insist that our journalism strive to ensure a healthy democracy. A well-balanced diet of public service and sustainability, rather than an Atkins-binge diet of all profit and no nourishment.
Is that even possible?
HEADED TO AUSTIN, TX AGAIN
Participatory Journalism in Action: The Cases of ohmynews.com, wikinews.org, and the blogs
Chair and discussant: Lorraine Branham, director, School of Journalism, UT Austin
The Symposium should be very educational, and I can't wait to meet some of these smart people. But I'm most looking forward to the "Video presentation on Austin City Limits TV show." I'll pretend I'm watching Guided By Voices drunk onstage, and probably scream inappropriately.
My panel went very well. I got several compliments afterward, anyway. I had tough acts to follow: Dan Gillmor (the master) and OhMyNews.com (new journalism rock stars). But my presentation, which I'm going to call "The Long Tail of the Media" was a nice compliment to to their message without duplicating it. It was also a nice lead-in for JD Lasica who played some rockin' indie media culled from Ourmedia.org.