As I’ve noted before, I work in communications.
And working in communications for me means (among other things) that I work with press. I’m not a reporter myself, though I do non-fiction and article writing among other things.
One thing I’ve noticed over the past few years is the slow but significant impact that the Internet is having on press and journalism. Most folks outside this space aren’t seeing it or are even aware of it, but the world of press and journalism is not what it was ten years ago. At it’s simplest, much of the press that was there ten or twenty years ago is now gone. The Internet is slowly killing the business model that sustained journalism in the west through most of the twentieth century.
But, as I noted, this is happening slowly and quietly. You may not be aware, dear reader, of the layoffs, newsroom shutterings, changed priorities and pressures on those left behind.
The situation, it’s causes and the likely effects of it are all familiar to those of us who have been tracking this for a while. Internet and online media combine with a culture of increasing democratization and short attention span to drive the paid experts who craft thoughtful work out of business. This leaves a gap to be filled with spotty quality blogs and Flash-animated short clips amongst other things that may satisfy the immediate need but lack the thought and depth that the old craftsmen and women brought to the trade.
Really, the only thing different here is that while most people don’t care about the impact this has on foreign events reporting, they do notice when that guy that wrote the funny movie reviews in the paper is gone.
I can say for myself I certainly see what’s happening and I agree with the views that we’re definitely losing something here. But, I also have to say that while change is always painful it’s also fruitful. The loss that we’re observing as the world convulses right now need not be permanent, especially if we note the risks and take steps to remedy them. And this change opens up all sorts of new opportunities that would not otherwise be there.
Of course, too, as someone that deals with press regularly, I do think that there’s an angle to this all that the press is understandably not covering. After all, since they’re writing about their own demise, they have no interest in calling out their own role in the current situation. That angle is the fact that for every good reporter who’s now out of work and whose fine work we’re losing there’s a hundred sloppy hacks also out of work.
Most coverage of this problem completely fails to look at the business reality that underpins this. Readers being happy to go to amateur, free sources like blogs means that those readers generally aren’t perceiving a loss in value compared to those professional sources. Of course, the press rail at those readers, saying that it’s due to them being stupid and failing to understand how much better the professional press are. And there is something to be said for the view that that some amateur work is to professional work as fast food is to fine cuisine. But it’s naive to think that’s the sole reason for this situation. There’s another part to this and that comes from the perceived arrogance of the press to their readers (helpfully on display in explaining the current situation no less), the way that press is out of touch with their customers (yes, they do have customers), and the fact that those customers don’t find the press’ product compelling when compared to other, free options.
I personally hope that good, thoughtful writers and journalists give this some real hard thought and work to build up a good business model or models so they can support their continued, ongoing, thoughtful work.
But, for the thousands of hacks who treat their readers like idiots, get their facts wrong and skew their story without acknowledging their bias who are hitting the real world at last: I don’t have a lot of sympathy.
In the end, it means the revolution in journalism won’t be televised. It’ll be blogged and posted on YouTube instead.