Sunday, March 18, 2007

Media Euthanasia

Reporting from PodCamp Atlanta.

A difficult question. If an animal is wounded do you attempt to assist it or do you shoot it? Depending on region, background and culture, you may receive two equally passionate and two equally valid answers. Me? I would certainly attend a wounded animal yet the decision to put it out its misery would be quick and with no regret.

In my city of Atlanta and in many other cities across the land, we are witnessing the pained throes of animals on the edge of extinction. Television stations pay huge sums of money to talking hair-dos and nobody tunes in. Print media continues to huddle in the smallest corner of the online world, wringing ink stained hands over staggering drops in circulation. Money pours forth from the wounds of a thousand cuts. Some self-inflicted. Some not.

The situation presents a tortured dichotomy for "new media" warriors. The easy response is to engage in a form of schadenfreude reveling in glee at the misery of the dinosaurs. Yet, though many will vehemently deny the alternate emotion, the vanguard of this new culture desires acceptance by the brick and mortar establishment. The one chit old media clings to viciously is legitimacy. Like children free in the world for the first time, bloggers, vloggers and podcasters simultaneously take a rebellious stance while craving the parent's acceptance of their position as an equal.

At Podcamp Atlanta, Creative Loafing MIS Manager Murray Grevious may have revealed how wide the rift has grown and how little hope there is to save the dying beasts. He states matter of factly that collaboration between traditional print and new media can never happen due to the constraints of the editorial process. In his opinion, the newsroom simply will not give up control of the filtration and vetting system to become more immediate, reactive and interactive.

It's a fair point and knotty problem. Legitimacy is garnered from the seeds of trust. Editorial control remains the greatest advantage and most onerous burden of the traditional media. Too many in the new media, bloggers in particular, practice shotgun methods of reporting where every bit of a story is thrown against the wall to see what sticks. They peddle in rumor, innuendo and would not admit the concept of retraction or correction exists. Traditional editorial process prevents most of these sins although a few do get through. When the process breaks down, most notably in the Jayson Blair saga, the reaction is instant and harsh.

The trade off for this comfort of accuracy is an insular world with little or no connection to the audience. A world where both a reporter and a blogger can spend three hours in a federal appeals court yet the reporter is limited to a few paragraphs on page three of the metro section while the blogger is free to write a feature length piece. A world where a story garnering national attention is ignored to discuss water buffalo. A world where a sunday feature deals with such "cutting edge" technology as text messaging.

The question has to be asked, if a company as agile and forward thinking as Creative Loafing (please note none of the above linked stories were published by the Loaf) believes it cannot adjust to the new world, is there any hope at all for the true behemoths? I believe the answer is probably not. The only conclusion that can be reached is it is time to stop assisting the wounded animals and instead fetch the shotgun.

Photo courtesy of Mike Schinkel


Grayson: Atlanta, GA said...

CL is run, editorially at least, by the biggest dictatorial asshole this side of Dick Cheney. Don't expect them to do jack to cross-pollinate with other alt social media. But don't worry, our cams will blast far and wide as any shotgun... one day soon too.

Anonymous said...

"Too many in the new media, bloggers in particular, practice shotgun methods of reporting where every bit of a story is thrown against the wall to see what sticks. They peddle in rumor, innuendo and would not admit the concept of retraction or correction exists."

Hear, hear. Lacking journalistic integrity and objectivity, any media - MSM, blog, podcast, whatever - becomes only a mouthpiece for bias. Fox News, for example.

Without a semblance of sound editorial and ombudsman processes the new media will fall into the same old trap of "media Balkanization", trusted only as far as an intended audience. Should that happen the only real revolution would have been in the medium of transmission.

rusty said...

Many posts brew in my head.

Jeff Haynie said...

great post. not much more to add than that.

mgjr said...

This is the Murray referenced in the post.

I probably shouldn't speak for the Editorial staff, but I will attempt to. They believe that any content on the site that isn't generated by the Editorial Department should be labeled as such and have some type of visual barrier separating editorial content from all other content. I agree with them up to a point.

The most viewed portions of our site by a wide margin are Listings and Goodeats. Both of those are editorial products, but they differ from the news and feature stories that many people think are the most popular. Our challenge is to figure out a way to preserve the Editorial brand but still find space for user generated content. We also have to determine what type of user generated content to solicit and how to display it. We don't want to just have the usual "most popular", "most e-mail'd". We want to do things like feature people's audio comments about different communities in our Urban Explorer guide, (We are currently testing for that. Thanks to a person I met at Podcamp)Social Networking centered around events and venues, and allowing people to upload images of interesting things they have seen. The challenge is setting up the infrastructure for that and figuring out where to put it and how to promote it. Also, a lot of our Advertisers are afraid of user generated content, which is an additional argument for segmenting it.

The bottom line is that Editorial has actually come a long way from when they wanted to just reproduce the printed paper on-line and everyone realizes that we have to change course. I think that applies to most print publications of our size.

I could say more but this is already a very long post. I appreciate any input I can get.


griftdrift said...

Murray, thanks for stopping by and I should have took the initiative to talk to you the day of the podcamp. Maybe one day we can all sit down and have a good conversation. In an effort to be fair I would note that Creative Loafing's Atlanta Political Party blog linked to my little blog when it was completely unknown. There is plenty of evidence that there are segments within the Loaf that "get it".

What is frustrating to me and I suspect to others as well is Atlanta has one of the more vibrant local issue oriented blog communities around. Yet the majority of the MSM at best ignores us or at worst pulls a Julia Wallace and tells everyone they are going to show us how it's done.

It'd be nice to at least be considered for the grown ups table.

Amber Rhea said...

It'd be nice to at least be considered for the grown ups table.

Yep, that pretty much sums it up.

Especially considering the fact that there are so many local bloggers doing a bang-up job at covering stuff that is important on the local level but would otherwise get swept under the rug.

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