Posts Tagged 'media'

Decentralization

In a TechDirt post last week, Timothy Lee references a Reason magazine article called After the Newspaper. Both pieces discuss how news is moving from a vertically integrated structure (one company controlling the news-dissemination process from story gathering to paper delivery) to a dispersed network structure (what we’ve got going on online).

It’s true that mass media organizations have become too monolithic, and are paying the price in this economy for their multimillion-dollar buying sprees. In cities where there used to be multiple dailies competing and publishing, there is often only one (and in the whole of Western Canada, for example, all the major dailies are owned by the same company and publish much of the same content). The lack of multiple voices in that sphere is something I wouldn’t be sorry to see change.

But this idea from the TechCrunch article is, I think, a little romantic:

Decentralized news-gathering processes can incorporate small contributions from a huge number of people who aren’t primarily in the news business. You don’t need to be a professional reporter to write a blog post every couple of weeks about your local city council meeting. Nor do you need to be a professional editor to mark your favorite items in Google Reader. Yet if millions of people each contribute small amounts of time to this kind of decentralized information-gathering, they can collectively do much of the work that used to be done by professional reporters and editors.

We already have that kind of “decentralized information-gathering” going on. And I don’t think it’s suited to the average citizen’s needs.

For example, I’ve become interested, in the last few months, in one specific topic: the transformation of in how we communicate, with a focus on the transformation in journalism. That’s why I started this blog, because I wanted to get a better feel for what was happening by trying some of it out myself, rather than just reading about it. Currently I subscribe to 18 blogs related specifically to this topic, which means I’m reading more than 40 entries every day. (I also consume a lot of other media, in the general news realm, but that’s beside the point.) Frankly, it’s a little overwhelming — even though I also do this sort of thing for a living!

One of the most time-consuming parts of my job (the one I get paid to do, at the newspaper), is wading through all the content and selecting what goes into the paper (when I’m doing one of the wire-based sections such as arts or national news). And there, I’m only wading through stories that have been written by trained reporters working under experienced editors. I do it so all our readers don’t have to, and they trust that what’s in the paper is what’s most relevant to them (generally speaking).

Those readers, as they shift to online, still need a place to go to get their news in a time-efficient manner. While I can see how decentralized news gathering is useful, I still believe centralized news editing is necessary. Most people don’t have time to edit their own news. I barely have time to digest my own news.

Content Part III

At work last night, I came across a story that got me thinking: a national story about Earth Hour. We’d covered Earth Hour like crazy in the week leading up to it and it was a given it would have to go in the paper.

In Canada goes dark for Earth Hour, the reporter quoted from the official Earth Hour Facebook site, a blogger in Ottawa, a blogger in Halifax, a person who attended an Earth Hour event in Toronto, an Ontario electricity spokesperson, the Earth Hour website, a Canadian Tire store’s website, an online activity list for a school in Alberta and a woman named Evelyn.

So of nine sources quoted in the story (an impressive number on the surface), two were from apparent interviews and seven were from online research.

My opinion on this is just my own opinion — other editors and reporters obviously feel differently — but to me, this is bad reporting, for two reasons.

  1. It’s lazy. Instead of doing the legwork and setting up interviews, the reporter surfs the Internet. Quoting from blogs and websites and Facebook pages sometimes has its place, but to build an article mainly around that is lazy. Interviews are two-way streets, with follow-up questions and interaction, and are a much better way to collect information.
  2. It’s dangerous. If we as journalists are just quoting from websites and blogs, what in the world do we have to offer that websites and blogs don’t offer? Why don’t we just make a bunch of links for our readers and abandon ship?

(A note: the version that ran in our paper, with a photo from Ottawa, was shortened, partly for space reasons.)

Now, the Internet is no doubt an amazing tool for journalists (I find it so hard to imagine/remember what it was like when I didn’t have a Google query at my fingertips for any question). It provides so many more tools for finding sources and researching issues. But should it become a substitution for interview-based reporting?

My answer to that is no. A vehement no. And it goes back to the argument I made in the Content Content Content post: The most valuable thing news organizations have to offer is the original reporting, the information you can’t get anywhere else.

Maybe you could make the argument that news organizations could provide a role in writing stories based on Internet research because the reporter is still doing the valuable job of spending the time browsing the sites and condensing the information down to a 500-word story. But it is still just a regurgitation of information that is already out there and in my opinion, our time should be better spent bringing new information to the table.

Content (part II)

Further to yesterday’s post:

Beatblogging.org also wrote about Gazette Communication yesterday and today posted a Q&A with Steve Buttry. He talks about how he doesn’t know if the revenue side is undergoing the same radical transformation as the content production side. He also gives a bit more information about what the (former) reporters will be doing: “We are separating our content operation entirely from our product operation. Our reporters will be blogging, but they are going to be multitasking entrepreneurial journalists.”

And it’s going fast. April 6 is the target date for the transformation. There will be a lot of news organizations watching.

J-source

The Canadian Journalism Project (J-source.ca) is a handy place for news specific to our dear northern country.

It’s generally a more optimistic place to go, which contributed to me being a bit cynical when I saw this post: Good News in Bad Times. I thought, they must really be stretching to talk about good news these days.

But they’re not. The post goes through the Canadian-specific “upsides” to the generally bad news out there.

  • Commercial radio: revenues steady through 2008
  • Magazines: mass circulation publications might be suffering, but some targeting magazines are actually booming
  • Newspapers: community weeklies still doing well; many dailies still profitable (but tied to the sinking albatross of their debt-laden parent companies)
  • Television: specialty channels doing well
  • Canwest’s woes: going into bankruptcy and splitting the company could be good for journalism — “If bankruptcy eliminated a whack of long-term debt from Canwest properties, the newspapers and television stations would be making money.”

Today’s news (and it’s featured on J-source too) is the CBC bloodbath (800 layoffs). Not unexpected news. But not good news.

Newspaper Death Watch

I’ve gotten a bit sidetracked from my first project: Sharing the websites I like to visit regularly. So here’s another instalment.

Newspaper Death Watch is what it says it is — a chronicle of newspapers dead and dying. It just celebrated its second birthday yesterday (March 23) but it’s been a jam-packed two years.

For anyone interested in a chronicle of the woes of the newspaper industry (focused on the U.S.), this site has already done a lot of your research for you. Generally there’s one long post Monday-Friday but when there’s news breaking on the closure of a paper, there will usually be a post on Newspaper Death Watch. Plus there’s the ever-so-encouraging Layoff Log. And R.I.P. bar.

Occasionally, Canada’s problems get a nod. It’s important to pay attention to what’s going on the States, though, because I think they’re a step ahead on the imploding-newspaper scale. For a lot of papers down there, it’s too late. But for others (like my own) it’s not too late yet and if there’s lessons to be learned, we should be learning them. More on that later.

A media mea culpa

It will be very interesting, in a few years, when some academic goes back and does an in-depth study on what the media was reporting, and when, about the financial crisis.

It’s obvious that mainstream media didn’t see the crisis coming. Toronto Star business reporter David Olive published his own mea culpa yesterday (March 22) and we’ve all watched Jon Stewart rake Jim Cramer over the coals (right?).

So mainstream missed the boat. What about the blogosphere and its myriad voices? Bloggers and online-only news sites are supposed to provide a new diversity to reporting. Did they? I’m pretty sure they did, but the real quesiton is, how many people managed to save their savings because they were following a blogger or reporter who got things right (or who reported on an analyst or expert who got things right) before the rest of us caught on.

The power of online video

Videos related to this blog are now over on the sidebar, thanks to vodpod!

I added two videos to start with. One of them is a straightforward talk given by Jay Rosen about the difference between old media and new media. He makes the point that it used to be a top-down distribution system and now it’s an intertwined, interactive system.

The other video is a news clip about the becoming-legendary confrontation between Jon Stewart and Jim Cramer on The Daily Show last week (March 12). I couldn’t actually link to the video on The Comedy Network site, but that’s where you should go to watch the whole thing, if you haven’t already.

It’s a wonderful, wonderful look at great interviewing skill. And an excellent commentary on the news media’s hand in the whole financial mess we got ourselves into. Why weren’t we asking those tough questions a year ago?

Watching the interview made me think about one of the pitfalls journalism has fallen into over the last few decades  — too often we take what people tell us at face value (like Jim Cramer says he did, but now realizes he was lied to, to his face, by people he trusted). I think this trend has been exacerbated by the deep cuts in many newsrooms, where reporters may not have the time to do the digging they need to do in order to be able ask the hard questions. There is also a huge, institutional loss of memory happening right now, as even more cuts are made and buyouts offered. Not that those issues are excuses for Jim Cramer. It was his job to be looking into the information he was getting and he had the resources to do it. He just didn’t. And there are many, many others like him.

The full-length interview is a must-watch for any journalist. Just watch it. Here’s the link again to The Comedy Network site.


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