Tuesday, January 4, 2011

When the last press falls silent, let there still be a Press!

Media migration, they call it. It’s the trend of media consumers (that’s you) to get
their information and entertainment from new sources.

By and large, this trend means people these days are consuming less print
media, and more online content. All of which makes for pretty gloomy times if you’re
working in the print media.

Print are not taking this lying down, of course. We’ve all established excellent
online platforms, websites, mobile sites, iPhone apps and all the rest.
But when we do so we’re competing against every blog in the universe, each
nimbly run by a handful of people. Meanwhile established media groups are large,
clumsy, slow to change and rooted in traditions of paper technology which are
gradually becoming less relevant.

At a recent conference I attended the “new media” crew (they seem reluctant
to be called journalists) gloated over the imminent demise of print media and
trumpeted the success of their web platforms.

What web 2.0 does with news, is give the audience the opportunity to express
themselves, debate stories and issues with each other using the
ubiquitous “comment” functionality. One web editor described her role as being
a “conversation shepherd” in that she steers the debates that arise after the initial
posting of a “seed story”.

The problem with this trend, though, is that it elevates opinion above
impartial reporting.

Sure, it’s great that everyone can chip in their ten cents’ worth, that there are
now multiple channels of communication and that the audience are now no longer
passive recipients of media content.

But where is the reasoned argument? The deep, investigative reporting? Is it
in the comments section below the stories? Hell no! In the Twitter updates? The
Facebook status updates? Hardly. The blogosphere?

No, it’s not. In empowering all of us to publish our views, digital media are
killing the tradition of responsible publishing.

People can pretty much say whatever they want online, and there’s no
censure. Chances of you being able to sue someone calling themselves zigs_11 in a
comments post are slim.

The old newspaper tradition of balanced reporting, of featuring both sides of
a dispute is vitally important, though, and it must not be allowed to die. To say
nothing of our role as social policeman who can hold public and private entities to

There is also an equalizing quality to third-person perspective. When A and B
are having an argument, the best person to write about it is not A or B, but someone
else, perhaps C.

So even when the newspaper press finally grinds to a halt, I hope that news
organisations will live on. They are custodians of several centuries of reporting tradition. The skills and ethics of the best kind of journalism are more vital now than
ever before.

By all means let the people rant. Let everyone’s opinion be heard. Let flame
wars rage in the comments section below every YouTube post. Let the websurfers
insult each other to their hearts’ content. Let LOLs and ROFLs and emoticons
resound across the digisphere.

But when we need someone to actually tell us what’s going on in the world.
Please let there still be some decent reporters around.

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