Tuesday, April 14, 2009

From somewhere beyond Pluto

Not really news to us, is it?

As newspapers choke and bloggish aggregators take their place, several things will happen.

1) You'll have many choices. Mainstream media makes it seem as if the death of print news will deprive us of something. I can't think what that would be. Even if my NY Times online disappeared, I'd know where to go for a replacement.

2) Guys like me who write for sites like Bilerico will have to pay more attention to the quality of what we produce. Until recently, I could write a review with the assumption that my product would be like a distant moon in a swirl of more stellar reviews, and that the reader would sample my viewpoint only in addition to the "real" reviews. That will change. Our voices have gained an unexpected legitimacy that is forcing me to be less off-hand and more careful. For instance, doing the red carpet at the GLAAD awards or covering the Winter Party in Miami Beach turned out to be not a lark but something to be more carefully crafted. I wish I could do those events over again. There are now expectations. I'm feeling a little bit like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, and I've done several rewrites of something I am about to dish up: an exclusive interview with the directors of the movie Every Little Step (Friday on Bilerico).

3) Original local content in the hands of a blogger/newser will become gold. For instance, you'll get my interview with Andrew Holleran (next week on Bilerico) or a review of the private kick-off reception for Miami Beach Pride (later this week) or my interview with Jack Rutland who heads up Fort Lauderdale's "gay library" that is having its grand re-opening this week. Ordinarily, a bloggish report would consist of grainy pics and chat with the hot guys in the crowd. These days, I have to do some homework and prep some questions in order to avoid reader-disappointment. The expectations are changing.

4) You will end up getting more, not less, and you can drill down as local as you want to go. I don't even go to the grocery store without my camera. Want to know what is in my kitchen sink and how it reflects the American economic malaise? Not a problem.

One final note. With print media, there was always the arrogance of inaccessibility. You couldn't always get a reporter to cover your event. You couldn't "get through to" an editor if you wanted to comment on something or ask a question. That arrogance has evaporated.

What is most interesting, from my point of view, is the fact that guys like me, who can do this without getting paid, will hold sway for a short time until news delivery is reconfigured. Not that I wouldn't like to get paid. And, if I get bored with this, the sweetest reality is the fact that I can stop whenever I wish, and do something else.


Java said...

You kitchen sink has American economic mayonnaise in it? Clean that up, man! It'll attract roaches.

This is an interesting development in news delivery. With the way things are changing we need to be ready to recognize opportunities that never existed before. And I was just talking to another blogger today about home milk delivery and the milk box on our front porch. Time warp, anyone?

Sam said...

I sort of respectfully disagree. What we are losing is a whole class of professionals who are basically supported by the public (in a roundabout way) to let everybody know what's going on, even if they're not interested in it, or if it's not interesting to the public at large.

I just picked up a copy of the Metro section of the Philadelphia Inquirer from about a month ago. Probably 80% of the stories I see in it are of a sort that won't be covered by anybody, including bloggers, after the Inquirer closes. (Which it probably will do.)

It's an interesting test you should do, with a copy of your own local newspaper. Bloggers just aren't going to cover that stuff.

I know there is a lot wrong with the press today, but what we're going to have soon is reporting based on who feels like reporting that day, on their own pet topics.

We'll have thirty blogs talking about the local mayoral election, but none talking about the local school board election. And thirty blogs talking about some local awards event, but nobody covering board meetings of the local utility authority.

I don't feel comfortable with that. But I don't know if I can change it.

Your point about accessibility confused me. The mainstream press is always busy. Trying to get them to cover your event is what a PR person does. (And they're jaded about PR people, so they usually brush you off.) What the press DOES get, which bloggers will NOT easily get, is accessibility to newsmakers, in terms of press credentials, i.e. credibility with government and law enforcement others due to the organization they work for. It's hard as a casual blogger to get press credentialing, which lets you cross police and fire lines at many crime or fire scenes, allows you easier access to records and statements by officials, and so on. I have followed (and applaud) AmericaBlog's efforts in this area, but they and other bloggers succeed because they work full time at reporting, not because they casually dip into it when they feel like it.

I realize upon scrolling up that I have been treating "newsprint media" and "online media" as the same thing in this post. If you didn't mean that, I hope I didn't confuse you or go too far off track.

I am interested in seeing how you develop as a reporter and commentator, because I like your writing and reasoning so much. I worry about your feeling that you can just drop it and walk away whenever you like. You CAN do that, but I think you shouldn't.

Much love and happy easter.

Tony Adams said...

Dear Sam, I think the market will be met, and I think that the talented writers shed by print media in the days to come will find places in the hybrids to come. What I am not sure about is how they will earn a living in a world of information provision that has become largely free.

Anonymous said...

T - In response to that bit at the end about stopping - please don't.
I think I speak for a lot of us that appreciate hearing what you have to say.

Blindman said...

I fear the loss of the brick and mortar component of the fourth estate. If we are left with only amateur reporters, who will speak truth to power, such as Woodward and Bernstein?

Look only to China for an example of how the powerful can exclude content from the net. We need the professional reporter, with all the First Amenendment lawyers and supports available to him/her to go after the miriad scoundrels, criminals, torturers, and Nixons of this world, who without the fear of exposure, would surely run rampant.

Do you think your local blogger would be able to go up against the Russian mob, or the Defense Department? Hardly. I shudder to think where we're headed.

Sam said...

It's the "market" being met that I'm worried about. There really isn't any market for these journalistic roles. Newspapers have traditionally supported local reporting, ie telling people what is happening on the many levels of their community, even though it makes them no money. What it does is brings in respect and supports the idea of the press as an institution.

These newspapers only really make money from the front page, the sports section, classifieds, sudoku and crosswords, etc -- and some of those decreasingly so with each passing month, due to the content being available elsewhere, more readily and more cheaply. The money-making sections basically subsidize the other reporting, in a tradition that goes back hundreds of years but that is being left behind in our current transition. Organizations like the New York Times, which might survive this transition, might keep some vestigial local reporting. But most of the old traditional media won't be able to. The new market just doesnt support it, and the tradition and values of the old press aren't being built into anybody's business model going forward.

It's not the writers as individuals I am concerned about here. In my life I have usually seen people rebuild and reinvent themselves, and these people will probably survive. (Personally, I do worry about all the writers I know, though.) I am concerned about the role of the journalist in society changing into something that may not serve society quite as well as it did before.

I probably worry too much about this stuff. Things change, and things usually come out all right for most people. (I'm an optimist under all the worry.) But I do think we are going to lose something valuable -- and we won't quite realize it for a while.


Patrick said...

Sam's point resonates for me, sadly. A few years back, in Seattle, a friend of mine contacted one of the local papers to complain about what he believed was the deliberate under-estimating of attenders at a Peace Rally. The editor he spoke to, while never confirming or denying the figure had been lowered, pointed out that they got many more complaints from people who thought the event shouldn't be reported at all, since it was giving voice to all those communists, hippies, and traitors. That summed up for me the struggle journalists must face all the time; they want to report stories they believe are important, but know they could can't completely alienate their audience and revenue stream. Artists (and I'm including journalists here) have faced this problem since the beginning. Finding a balance between substance and entertainment is tricky; I'm not suggesting the balance is the same for a journalist as it might be for a musical theatre artist, say, but I do think both professionals may at times find themselves having to question if what needs to be said is something people will pay to hear.