6 thoughts on “The Vector of Media Today…Conversation.”

  1. My working model is that there are three things killing traditional journalism, other than the loss of advertising revenue (about which more below) in the US:

    1. News people used to file reports; now they write stories. This is another way of saying that the job was at one time (at least idealized as) reporting on what happened, on creating a journal of events. Now, the focus is on creating a narrative, raising consciousness, and promoting a point of view. We still use the terms “reporter” and “journalist,” but we generally mean “advocate.”

    2. Journalism used to be a trade; now it is a profession. Really, it’s still a trade, and it is practiced by people so poorly educated that, if they were not journalists, they would have to teach in the public schools. Journalists have no expertise except writing in a certain format, and given the raw copy I’ve seen, their only actual expertise is in fitting words into that format. OK, that’s unfair, because there is a lot that goes into getting good sources. Why do I discount this? Because the vast majority of the stories I see include phrases like “a senior administration official” and “sources say” and “some claim.” These are not source development; they are at best covering, and at worst making things up to fit the narrative. The problem is that journalists have not merely started thinking of themselves as professionals; in the process they have lost their craft and their connection to ordinary people, and see themselves as part of the elite. This means that they are effectively worthless at conveying matters of interest outside the world of the elites.

    3. Beat journalism is effectively dead. It used to be that journalists would cover a particular area of interest in depth for a long time. They were thus able to understand the subjects that they covered, and convey that to their readership. Those areas in which I have deep knowledge are uniformly reported poorly. When I see reporters saying things that I know to be false – not merely fuzzed or a little off or too far dumbed down, but actually completely out of the ball park – it makes me wonder how wrong they are about the places where I have less expertise. If I want space commentary, I can get that from several bloggers who have built spacecraft, and even in some cases been in space. If I want technology commentary, I can get that from engineers and IT folks directly. If I want political commentary, I can get it from historians and political scientists. But I get this not through the media, but through blogs and discussion boards. The loss of beat journalism was the loss of the ability to report with knowledge, and why would I want to hear some idiot spouting off just because they are a journalist?

    It is certainly the case that the move of classified advertising from the newspapers to online fora has killed the newspapers financially. But they could have adapted, and could have thrived, had they not done the above three things. Journalists still have pockets deep enough to cover far-flung and fast-moving stories, and because that’s their job, they can be on a story all the time, rather than after they come home from work. But those advantages are eroding, both because news organizations are cutting out their far flung reporting and relying on re-reporting stories written by other sources, and because blogging is and social media like twitter are spreading rapidly through the society, increasing the amount of net expertise available at the click of a button. I suspect that the next giant organizations of journalism will not be today’s, but will be aggregators who find experts who blog and tweet and so on – or find experts and convince them to do so – and then aggregate that into a single link site that looks a lot like Google (minimalist, targeted search) and makes its money from advertising.

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