Monday, December 22, 2008

The True Cost of Old Media's Demise


Much has been said about the death of print, which in recent months has felt more foreboding than ever for media folks. Even if you don't ingest the daily obituaries of the media world's slow and steady loss of titles, brands and marquees, you can't have missed the somber cries from the world of print. The biggest newspapers in the country, and many smaller ones, all have a cloud of death above them, or at best, the promise of a gradual and undignified demise. For somebody that still considers ink on paper—and more importantly, the journalism that usually accompanies it—a beautiful technology, it's been straight depressing.

But what gets obscured when all the talk is just about how poor the old model performs these days, and how great the digital revolution has been to citizen journalism and the flow of opinions, is that real investigative writing takes money, time and infrastructure. Without the traditional news organizations and even the upstart alternative ones, a lot of stories can easily go un- or under reported. David Carr's excellent piece in The New York Times reminded me of the loss we all potentially face.

Carr gives a great example of Newark's Star-Ledger, a daily paper covering one of the most corrupt cities in the country, and how its staff of reporters is diminishing dramatically. Say what you will about bloated staffs and an industry correction, but I want to know that my hometown paper is keeping politicians, the police and others in check. Carr sites Google's CEO Eric Schmidt declaring at the recent American Magazine Conference that the Internet without serious journalism is nothing more than a "cesspool" of useless information. (Ironic given Google's on and off again battles with media companies over rights and reproductions).

But the loss of real reporting may be the collateral consequence if newspapers and their companies shrink to fit the new media economy. Just today, in my local LA Weekly, I came across a 1/2 page story on the city's new "gang czar," a subject I'd heard only a little about in recent months but one important to every Angeleno. Had it not been for the dogged Weekly reporters, and their counterparts in the LA-area media, this type of reporting could start to wane. Even the Huffington Post's enormous unpaid posse of bloggers (of which I'm one) isn't going to get the access or the budget to stay on a complicated and slippery story like this. In fact, my quick search on the HuffPo came up with exactly zero articles on LA's Gang Reduction and Youth Development (aka, the gang czar) task force director the Rev. Jeff Carr.

Listen, I want my digital media as much as the next person. And I don't sympathize with these behemoth institutions who, for way too long, failed to evolve and anticipate this day. The Daily Beast's Tina Brown calls the recent fallout, "a volcanic realignment that’s overdue." And, much like political campaigns, I believe that media has been corrupted by dollars, sponsors and opinion polling so that what's left is too often not the news we need. But even with all the failings of newspapers and news magazines, it's their reporting, digging, fact-finding and long form journalism that we all depend on. Or, more ominously, what we'd surely miss if it were gone.

1 comment:

Joe the media teacher said...

Raymond,

The question becomes, how do I light my wood stove? Heck if the newspaper goes away, how will I wrap my fish?
Anyhow, jokes aside, I will miss the 'newspaper' as currently configured (i.e. tactile, foldable, paper-a set piece if you will- with a beginning and end), though I enjoy the web info experience.
Most important is the fiscal model(s) that needs to emerge, because few will produce quality journalism if it does not pay the bills. And what I see again and again on the web is reprints of old media stories or just more opinions, and as popular as the Fox News model is (all opinions, all the time), it is not news, rather propaganda.
Who will spend the time needed to get to the bottom of the next Watergate? Who will 'speak truth to power?' How can we take this new media with its greater reach and, hopefully, lower production costs and still have well paid work?

Just my half pence,

Joe the media teacher