Monday, 26 October 2009

The New New Media

Today got "tweeted" an interesting feed via Twitter (Motto: you cannot spell "Twitter" without "Twit."), from Guy Kawasaki. Normally, I would pass right over anything from a source such as Mr Kawasaki, since he is one of the most infamous of the Apple Cultists.

In this article, Judy Shapiro (a marketing professional for various e-interests) makes a case for salvaging the traditional media (e.g., the NY Times and other print media) in various ways. Not surprisingly, given her job and her expertise, the advice includes the usual bromides about building "communities" of users, making content more "fun," shifting paradigms (maybe Bain and Company have finally triumphed with their cliches and cereal box sophistries), and generally moving away from the expensive and generally old-fashioned, un-hip "push" model for information to the internet model of information "pull" to draw in news "consumers" and ultimately creating not readers, but "affiliates."

I'm willing to set aside the absurd notion that the creation of information for an educated populace of the sort a real democracy needs to function can be created in a sort of ersatz C-Net on Sesame Street, but there is a number of enormous, existential problems here.

What Ms Shapiro and other proponents of the "new" media fail to grasp is that it's not the entertainment value of the 'news' content that makes it vital, but rather, the quality of that information. It's indisputable that the internet revolution, such as it is, has created an enormous quantity of information that can be had for, at most, nominal charge. For those who want to find out what the actual name of the Skipper character on Gilligan's Island was or who played first base for the 1975 Boston Red Sox was, or other such trivia, all are readily available. But this explosion in quantity has not been accompanied by an equal growth in accuracy or wisdom. One need only go to Google, and enter in a search of "Vince Foster" or "Barack Obama Birth Certificate" to confirm that there is a wealth of junk masquerading as news that is equally available. In short, it's the difference between Wikipedia and the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Gathering news is serious business, and relies on serious, professional reporters. That does not include Arianna Huffington.

Ms Shapiro goes on to argue that the current model (fee for content) cannot work because, ultimately, there are too many "leaks" in the systems - security and other holes that can be exploited. So, once the Times publish something, it ultimately will escape and be had by people for "free."

That may be true, but what is the end-game of the exercise Ms Shapiro is proposing - where 'news' is gathered by 'communities' or 'affiliates?' Right now, when you or I goes hunting for the news on our favourite blog or link, free of charge of course, chances are pretty damned good that if it is real news, then a paid reporter, working for Reuters or the Times or some other such outfit actually dug the information up, published it, and it was picked up and communicated via the various channels that lead to your browser. But if the reporter is gone, that information is going to be gone as well, and thus you will no longer have access, either.

Ms Shapiro's argument is akin to saying that the because there are too many leaks in distributing food, we ought to do away with farms. But friends, as the bumper sticker says, no farms, no food.

Finally, as to the argument about "push" versus "pull" content, and making the news more likely to attract "communities," I would offer the obvious example. Which news outlet saw, during the past 10 years, its "community" grow the quickest? It's an outlet that has re-designed its news "brand" to be more "fun," given its consumers what they want, pulled viewers, and last month, via hidden cameras in various ACORN offices, turned a couple of its viewers into affiliates.

The end game of Ms Shapiro's 'new' media is in fact, already here, and it's not my idea of a high-quality news organisation.

It's Fox News.
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