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The 1970s called: Help! Save the dying mainstream media!

Product Details Legacy print and television media will almost certainly go out of existence before anyone employed there grasps the significance of design in nature or of any other non-material concept.

Pity the ink-stained wretch—but not too much. He was well on his way to becoming a self-satisfied bore, grovelling to trendy politicians, the moment washable ink was invented.

From a Times Literary Supplement review of George Brock’s Out of Print:

Satellite and cable television, and then, especially, the internet, have brought the protected position of big news organizations to a sudden end, and made the underlying erosion of the newspaper audience more obvious. Previously, defining journalism had been easy, at least for journalists. As Brock puts it, “Journalists were people who worked for these quasi-industrial organizations”. Much of what news organizations produced was replicative – substantial press packs covered the same stories in roughly the same way – or was merely a repackaging of public information. But, operating from their safe perch, journalists could tell themselves that if they produced something, it must have economic and social value. Those comfortable assumptions are now gone. As a business, newspapers have been subjected to devastating competition from new entrants in advertising sales and in information provision. As a social activity, they have had to meet a much higher standard of originality and distinctiveness.

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The situation in journalism is changing so rapidly that it is difficult to get a sure sense of what is going on. There is a great deal of discussion but it mainly takes place in an endless series of panel debates and blog posts where there are plenty of confident assertions, but not much reliable data. Roughly speaking, the discussants divide into two teams: Team Digital, whose members are quick to predict the imminent and not especially tragic death of the familiar news organizations, and Team Mainstream Media, whose members look hopefully at every new development for evidence to support their wish for a restoration of the good old days. When Buzzfeed raises millions of dollars from venture-capital firms, or a member of the public with an iPhone produces the first picture of a breaking news event and posts it to a global audience, Team Digital proclaims victory. When the New York Times introduces a reasonably successful online subscription system, Team Mainstream Media does. The great virtue of Brock’s book is that it deals comprehensively, intelligently and unsentimentally with the entire range of major questions about journalism now. Although it doesn’t present a lot of new information, it is the best single source available for context about the situation as a whole.

;) Fortunately, the 1970s didn’t tie us up on the analog phone long. As reviewer Nicholas Lemann notes, “It is difficult to say with a straight face, and George Brock does not, that the fabled ‘new business model’ for news – that members of Team Mainstream Media often see just around the corner – has arrived, or will arrive any time soon.”

What will come next, actually, will be an epic battle for freedom of the media, now that the media’s freedom matters (because new media often do not follow party lines). Like I said to some embattled Canadian bloggers (embattled because they were reporting stuff that legacy media don’t because Top People and chatterati don’t like people hearing that stuff): You, and we, are the media now.

For a similarly profound shakeout coming to science media in particular, see “Nobelist Schekman spells out his challenge to science journals” and “Nobelist Randy Schekman boycotting Nature, Cell, and Science.”

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2 Responses to The 1970s called: Help! Save the dying mainstream media!

  1. I grew to maturity in the ’70s, when news sources consisted of four TV channels, two major news magazines, the local newspaper, and that’s about it. It’s hard for people who didn’t live through it to realize the near-universal liberal bias that existed in America’s mass media before talk radio the World Wide Web took off.

    Two eye-openers for me over the years were Bill Buckley’s weekly “Firing Line” and Milton Friedman’s “Free to Choose” series — both appearing on PBS, as matter of fact (considering the rest of their fodder, it was the least they could do). Those, and books by Hayek, Rand and a few others.

    Reagan came up through the Republican grass roots, with the country-clubbers of the party kicking and screaming all the way. When I saw him at a campus rally in 1978, as a student at Oklahoma State, to hear the contrary view elucidated so logically, convincingly and fearlessly was nothing short of electrifying. During the eight years of his presidency — few may remember, but I do — it’s no overreach to describe the opposition that he faced at every turn from the MSM as monolithic.

    And talking about electrifying, not to mention the belly laughs, the same goes for Limbaugh. When he first hit the airwaves nationwide during the early 90s, who had ever heard such unabashed contrarian sounds emanating from one’s radio speakers on a regular basis before? Replete with parodies of “feminazis” set to music, no less.

    That said, there are upsides, but also downsides, to this Information Revolution we’re in the midst of.

    On the upside, IMHCO the “epic battle for freedom of the media” has already been lost by the “Top People.” The reactions to the Snowden revelations, not by Congress or the American people so much, but by the private companies that run the world’s information infrastructure, is telling.

    As seen, for instance, in a blog post (4 Dec 2013 9:00 PM) by Brad Smith, General Counsel & Executive Vice President, Legal & Corporate Affairs for Microsoft, called “Protecting customer data from government snooping” (emphasis added):

    Many of our customers have serious concerns about government surveillance of the Internet.

    We share their concerns. That’s why we are taking steps to ensure governments use legal process rather than technological brute force to access customer data.

    Like many others, we are especially alarmed by recent allegations in the press of a broader and concerted effort by some governments to circumvent online security measures – and in our view, legal processes and protections – in order to surreptitiously collect private customer data. In particular, recent press stories have reported allegations of governmental interception and collection – without search warrants or legal subpoenas – of customer data as it travels between customers and servers or between company data centers in our industry.

    If true, these efforts threaten to seriously undermine confidence in the security and privacy of online communications. Indeed, government snooping potentially now constitutes an “advanced persistent threat,” alongside sophisticated malware and cyber attacks.

    In light of these allegations, we’ve decided to take immediate and coordinated action in three areas:

    · We are expanding encryption across our services.

    · We are reinforcing legal protections for our customers’ data.

    · We are enhancing the transparency of our software code, making it easier for customers to reassure themselves that our products do not contain back doors.

    Here’s a closer look at what we’re doing…

    As we say in Texas, “Them’s fightin’ words.” And in a showdown between the titans of the information infrastructure — for whom the Snowden revelations represent “a clear and present danger” to their pocketbooks — versus whatever leftover nerds the government is able to hire (sorry, Edward), I’m betting my money on the titans.

    No contest, the way I see it, no matter how many nukes or how much money the “Top People” are sitting on. Unlike in the past, in the Information Economy weapons and gold may no longer be determinative. So you’re a government apparatchik, fed up with the endless criticism, so you decide to march the jackboots into the so-called titans’ offices, and arrest them all for not playing ball. So what? What will that accomplish but your own economic and political destruction?

    So that’s the upside I see. On the downside the basic problem that information technology has presented, to all who make their living producing content that can be digitized, is singular. Namely, how do you make a living producing quality content — an exercise that is not necessarily cheap — as the marginal cost of reproducing it approaches ever closer to zero?

    The fact is, publishers and editors perform valuable functions by upholding journalistic standards (yes Mildred, there actually are such things), and under the old model, by providing resources to send reporters to the far-flung scenes of news.

    Lacking some kind of “new business model” for journalism, making sense of the product individual citizen-journalists is going to fall more and more on the individual citizen-editor, even as the quality of the product declines. I could be wrong, but if Huffpo becomes the acme of organized journalistic enterprise going forward, we may be in trouble.

  2. I say its not the medium but the ability of the media people that is the problem or showing a historic problem.
    Conservative media people have risen in the last decades because they do a smarter job that many people respond too.
    The big media promotes ethnic/sex identies that are unrelated to the cross section of North america and unrelated to the best people since identity is relevant still.
    Liberals are not as smart and the demographics they come from are not as smart.
    The right people could turn tv/papers into mega successful with no glance back at the internet and so on.
    Do a better job. The problem is identity and their failure.
    the same reason rock and roll is dead. And europe and the orient is not going to save it.

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