Friday, August 11, 2006

$ign O' The (New York) Times

In her letter to NPR on the state of journalism yesterday, Geneva Overholser writes that "things got so bad in profit-pressured, innovation-resistant traditional media companies that we reached (finally!) a tipping point."

"Now both old and new media are moving forward in interesting and productive ways," she writes. "I'm heartened by it."

I couldn't agree with her more. You hear that, media industry? You're a loafing, greenback-lined, pinstriped pressure cooker stifling anything that's out of line with the mission statement. Well, according to some, anyway.

Is that too harsh a statement? Probably. But it's admittedly easy to veil intentions of profit with the mark of public service and the First Amendment. So goes the eternal clash of a professional ideal versus its reality. But let's be honest, in the upper rungs of the industry, have money and tradition waxed the ears of those whose ears used to be so finely tuned to the populous, the cutting edge, the pulse?

For example, even after journalist John Seigenthaler, Sr. made headlines in 2005 for a vandalized Wikipedia entry, the New Yorker didn't cover the now 4.6 million-article aggregate and zeppelin of citizen journalism until July 24 (of this year). Such creativity! (but it's not just Conde Nast's baby that's sleeping at the wheel.)

Are quick-fingered, sassy citizens big media's Q-Tips? The jury's still out on that one. But in David Sifry's
vivid analysis of Technorati's statistics on over 50 million blogs, it's easily seen that blogs are making their way onto the news dashboard. Despite the impending slowdown in the rate of new blogs, it's clear that the new generation doesn't see blogs and "new media" as an exception, but rather as part of the rule - and this grassroots movement is offering up information much less digested than any New York Times feature. As Ms. Overholser wrote:

Meanwhile, though, are "old" media companies really putting the resources they need to into new media? Most of them are doing it only very slowly, because the old biz model, though it's shrinking, is so much more profitable than the new (digital delivery) one, though the latter is growing quickly.

In the end, you're right Ms. Overholser, these are exciting times in journalism. I'm completely with you on removing the self-doubt from the ink in our pens to shake up a creaky business model. Will they wake up? I don't know. But suddenly, "the paper of record" seems to be a slow-footed moniker that's not so flattering.

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