|For New Media, It's 'Bottoms Up !'|
BY BRUCE APAR
My friend Jared Feinberg asked me today how to promote the good deeds of his son’s Boy Scout troop through the media, which, he astutely observed, “Has changed a lot.” To say the least.
As with any change in business, culture or society – in this case, all three combined – there are Pluses and Minuses about The New Media.
The singular best Plus is “All Access,” with digital distribution through online channels affording just about everyone equal opportunity to “blast” their message to the world, or at least to specific corners of the micro-worlds that are most interested in the particular subject matter.
These days, thanks to the favorable economics to publishers of Citizen Journalism (ie, no payment for content), when an audience member wants to tell everyone his or her story, the closer you come to submitting it in complete written form with a photo and caption, the more likely it will be published almost exactly that way. You not only saved the publisher money, but also saved the staff a lot of time, while still allowing it to do its job: report on its audience’s activities.
The singular worst Minus is “Accountability & Accuracy,” or a shortage thereof. Citizen Journalism is the antithesis of the fading fortunes of Professional Journalism. Mix in editorial staffs that are both thinner than ever and less experienced on average than ever (with a greater proportion of entry-level practitioners to veterans), and you have a recipe ripe for frayed facts and once-over-lightly reporting. Mis-spelled names are not uncommon. Pages of photos without a single caption in sight to give a clue who we are looking at. Perhaps all the subjects in the photos are those online trash-talkers who are desperate to remain anonymous – but somehow I don’t think so.
Single-source stories are more plentiful than ever (eg, taking the word of a single individual as newsworthy enough to make the front page). There are at least two reasons for that: 1) They can be more provocative when a malcontent or dissident or activist rattles the cage of authority figures, and cleverly employs a compliant media as a propaganda accomplice; and 2) in the 24/7 cycle of instantaneous online media, the pressure to refresh content and to feed an audience hungry for a constant stream of new content leaves little time to do a copious research on any single story, so hit-and-run journalism is more prevalent than ever.
As for Investigative Journalism, it is a critically endangered species once you get past the big leagues of major media outlets.
Stories submitted by readers may be cursorily checked and edited, but the published product suggests there is scant time or money to do much more than that. One very recent political press release that began “[Candidate’s name] formerly [italics mine] announces …” was published by one site verbatim, with that egregious spelling error intact.
The irreversible trend nationwide among daily newspapers is their decelerating frequency, which is to say the daily newspaper in some major markets is morphing into a semi-daily newspaper, if not shifting exclusively to online publishing. It’s happened in Seattle, New Orleans and other cities and will continue apace. It’s bound to happen in the Hudson Valley as well, probably no later than this year or next.