Disclaimer time here. This is strictly my personal opinion and not an official Zemoga statement. But from time to time we all feel the urge to get up on our soapboxes.
We’ve been attending a lot of conferences lately where the future of media (both offline and online) has been the major topic of discussion. In fact, this morning our Chief Creative Officer, Dan Licht attended Gotham Media’s Breakfast Summit where the topic was “MEDIA IN CRISIS: IS THERE A WAY OUT?”. Here’s a quote Dan tweeted from one of this morning’s presenters:
“Newspapers are the only unbiased journalism. 1000s of bloggers aren’t journalist nor are they unbiased”
Sorry folks, but I’ve got to call bulls**t on that one. Never mind that yellow journalism goes back to the founding of newspapers (No one ever made the claim that Hearst or Pulitzer was unbiased). Never mind the scandalous revelations of simply made up news (like the Jayson Blair stories from the gold standard in journalism, the NEW YORK TIMES). Never mind that numerous current and former journalists are blogging every day. Ultimately this is at the root of the problem for newspaper (and magazine and television journalists). The belief that what they do is some sort of arcane craft that can only be practiced after years of training and “paying the dues” at papers like the EAST PODUNK PRESS.
Maybe it’s a natural reaction to seeing your industry upended by new technology (after all music industry executives reacted in much the same way). But the traditional media establishment seems to have an elitist reluctance to believe that anyone but the chosen few can accurately chronicle and report on major topics.
The problem is this ignores everything that’s working in journalism today. Whether it’s citizen journalism like Twitter commentary on the Mumbai terrorist attacks, influential blogs like the Drudge Report or the Huffington Post, or You Tube videos galvanizing people about current events in Iran, digital media has been at the forefront of breaking news in the past year. Heck, Reuters confirmed news of Michael Jackson’s death based on a TMZ report.
Why have online channels been able to match and surpass the reporting of their traditional media counterparts in cases like these. The democratic nature of the web. It’s the spirit which built Wikipedia and the entire Open Source movement. And it’s the spirit which allows important events to be covered in an immediate and comprehensive manner. Yes, publish then edit is antithetical to a certain portion of the traditional media establishment (not surprisingly, the most vocal critics of this method are, um …editors). But it’s an effective model that’s been working and effectively documented as a legitimate way to produce solutions for any number of scenarios (maybe the presenter who made that comment has never read CROWDSOURCING).
But this is counter to the journalism establishment’s main argument in defense of their dying industry. That people aren’t smart enough to filter reporting and detect biases themselves. That they can’t see that Fox News leans right and MSNBC leans left anymore than they can see that Drudge and THE DAILY KOS do the same thing. That without the protective seal of THE NEW YORK TIMES or THE WASHINGTON POST, they won’t be able to separate fact from fiction and opinion from objective reporting. Like I said before, bulls**t.
Digital consumers have already proven their ability to report accurately, intelligently and insightfully on any number of subjects (Wikipedia once again being a prime example of this). And if traditional journalists don’t start acknowledging the “Wisdom of Crowds” and the power of the web democracy then they will find themselves facing the same fate as any other bloated and irrelevant aristocracy. Obsolescence then extinction.
Don’t get me wrong. There are a lot of media organizations that are not sticking their heads in the sand and fully embracing the evolution of journalism in the digital age (BUSINESS WEEK is a particular standout). But when I hear quotes like that, I have just one piece of advice for the speaker.
Stop attending conferences like these and open up a Twitter account.
What do you think? How can digital journalism get the respect it deserves?