Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Best Of the Drifts - The Tip Of The Spear

Originally published June 22, 2009

The Tip Of The Spear

Blogs are Id. I suppose if you continue the analogy, staff reports are the Ego and features/columns/
investigatives are the SuperEgo ~griftdrift in a conversation with a traditional journalist

Developing a philosophy on media in our rapidly changing world is evolutionary, but a revolution may have shown us the way.

All discussions of media in a world of blogs, twitter, facebook and whatever comes next center on the question of "how do we make this work?"

For the moment, let's put aside the issue of how do we make money. No one has the answer and it only muddies the waters.

As we continued to navel gaze on the slow death of newspapers, the eventual death of the 6:00 news and the impact of both on our democracy, events in Iran accelerated the conversation far past our current mutterings and hand wringing.

Although many have framed the Iranian unrest as another "Twitter grows up" moment (they are coming with more regularity aren't they?), the side story of how CNN was apparently caught flat-footed is more interesting from an evolving media perspective.

In the opening days of the protests, CNN, who famously made its bones breaking huge international stories, was noticeably absent. Filling the void were the blogs of Andrew Sullivan, Nico Pitney and Juan Cole. Sullivan's place became a practical stream of conscience of every raw tidbit the maelstrom ejected.

As Twitter became the tool of choice for protesters, information which had been a trickle became a torrent.

Of course, both were rife with exactly the type of content traditional media decries as the downfall of new media - items were impossible to confirm and possibly blatantly false. The great weakness of new media is the possibility of manipulation by an unseen hand. As Iran devolved into a full blown cyberwar, it became nigh impossible to tell the truth from the truth spinners. The old internet adage of believing everything is false until proven otherwise certainly applied.

Sullivan and his cohorts were very clear that information passed along was unverified and should be taken as such.

Finally, into the breach stepped CNN. As the second week of unrest progressed, CNN with all its resources created an "Iran desk" with reporters interpreting images and speeches from a far, calling contacts in Iran and their greatest resource in these situations, Foreign Editor Christiane Amanpour, on air constantly (notably asking one of the most pointed questions at an Ahmedenijad press conference).

What had been a vast field of clutter was brought under the aegis of a massive media machine and began to resemble structure.

Oddly, the progression of media events in those two weeks mirror a common occurrence in the world of software - the merger of a smaller start-up with a traditional, heavily bureaucratized legacy. The only way these types of mergers work is if the agility of the start-up and the institutional knowledge of the legacy are both leveraged without either losing its identity. Failure occurs when either side insists on lockstep adaptation of a "preferred" culture.

Too often in the past, both sides of the media discussion have opted for the second methodology instead of the first. We recognize that we are not the same but we fail to recognize there is strength in that lack of sameness.

So, it is admission time and I am willing to go first.

We cannot do your job. There will be times when we perform parts of your job and I believe it has been shown in the past three years that we can do it with a level of professionalism and standards that should be acknowledged. But we can't cover a beat as well as you do, at this point we can't conduct investigative pieces as well as you do and we sure as hell can't cover an international conflagration with the level of detail and confirmation needed. We need you and it is far past time we admit this fact.

However, in a world where it grows more likely that a person's first contact with a story is a blog or facebook or twitter, you need us too.

We are the tip of the spear but you are the haft - both needed, one for first contact and one for weight and direction, to enable the whole to reach its target.

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