The state of the mediaWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | firstname.lastname@example.org
The Internet is the first vehicle that has expanded media’s capabilities while simultaneously threatening its future. Telegraph, print, radio and television allowed news reporting to incorporate technology but remain, in theory, in the hands of educated, trained people who worked for those wealthy enough to maintain a newspaper, radio station or television station. The relationship was symbiotic.
The Internet has proven more of a parasitic or, in its worst guises, cannibalistic medium. There is much talk of the “democratization” of information via the World Wide Web, the notion that anyone with computer access and modest funding can host a site that provides “news.” This has led to a blurring of lines; if I can get mostly unfiltered news releases from Lisa Reneé Ward at Glass City Jungle or streaming video of meetings from Chris Myers at Swampbubbles, do I need professional editors and reporters to interpret and deliver my community news.
This question is especially germane given the lack of trust media has cultivated through scandal, lies and duplicity. Locally, many publications publish news releases with no follow up, or — the greatest sin short of lying — sell stories to companies but fail to label them as paid advertising. This market is soiled in greed and lack of ethical conduct by people who have no more business running a publication than I do flying a 747.
Given this environment, maybe local readers are better off gleaning some of their news from Swampbubbles or Glass City Jungle.
Are Myers and Ward journalists in the traditional sense of the word? I do not believe either of them would argue they are, but I have more trust in them than in many of the daily media reporters in this market. They’re not quite bloggers, not quite journalists. We need a new word that combines the two. Joggers? Blournalists?
Recently, the Project for Excellence in Journalism released its 2008 State of the Industry Report. It’s a 26-page behemoth, but if you have any interest in the future of media and the Web, I urge you to read the report at www.stateofthenewsmedia.org/2008.
Some of the highlights:
• “A clear case for democratization is harder to make. Even with so many new sources, more people now consume what old-media newsrooms produce, particularly from print, than before. Online, for instance, the top 10 news Web sites, drawing mostly from old brands, are more of an oligarchy, commanding a larger share of audience than they did in the legacy media.”
• “More and more it appears that the biggest problem facing traditional media has less to do with where people get information than how to pay for it — the emerging reality that advertising isn’t migrating online with the consumer. The crisis in journalism, in other words, may not strictly be loss of audience. It may, more fundamentally, be the decoupling of news and advertising.”
• “News is shifting from being a product — today’s newspaper, Web site or newscast — to becoming a service: how can you help me, even empower me? There is no single or finished news product anymore. As news consumption becomes continual, more new effort is put into producing incremental updates, as brief as 40-character e-mails sent from reporters directly to consumers without editing.”
• “A news organization and a news Web site are no longer final destinations. Now they must move toward also being stops along the way, gateways to other places, and a means to drill deeper, all ideas that connect to service rather than product.”
• “Talk Radio is more about amplifying events than covering them. Nearly half the weeks last year, the medium took the top story of the week and doubled it in volume. For all of 2007, politics and the campaign accounted for more than a quarter of all the airtime studied among the five top radio hosts. The second-biggest talk topic was the media figures themselves, which accounted for about one out of every six minutes of conversation.”
• “The number of blogs in spring 2007 was doubling every 320 days, according to data from Technorati, a blogging search engine. The research found 70 million blogs worldwide at that time.”
• “Despite the blogs’ proliferation, survey data suggest most Americans have yet to accept them as significant news sources. According to a winter 2007 Zogby Poll, blogs were the lowest on the list of “important” sources of news, coming in at 30 percent, well after Web sites (81 percent), television (78 percent), radio (73 percent), newspapers (69 percent) and magazines (38 percent). More Americans, 39 percent, chose friends and neighbors over blogs as an important informational source.
Recently, Dwayne Morehead and Bishop Stephen Ward launched The Toledo View, an ambitious Web site they billed as an “online-only” newspaper. Their Web site is a microcosm of everything Internet citizen media would like to be and everything Internet citizen media fails to be. The site’s sins are few, but unforgivable: a reliance on content and commentary by anonymous contributors and a bad habit, currently tempered, of stealing Associated Press content. The Project for Excellence in Journalism should commission a study of the site’s content, response and life span. It’s a convenient laboratory for the discussion of the democratization of media — why it represents a reach for the stars, and why, so far, it has yet to break through the clouds.