Wednesday, October 15, 2008

News Blues

Maybe it's the changing weather maybe it's post traumatic stress disorder after the week of financial havoc around the world, but I've been feeling a bit blue about my profession. 

I know, nothing new. Major job losses at newspapers. Shrinking revenue streams for traditional news outlets, print and broadcast, and no clear answer as to the future. Actually, Bill Kling, mastermind of how to make a lot of money from a non profit, and public broadcasting empire, articulated it quite well in his keynote to this year's batch of grant winners for innovations in journalism. 

No, I think my blueness is more about the disappointment of the once bright promise of the web. I suppose this happens with new technologies. You see the enormous potential, the possibility of a new society! Call me naive, but the possibility of a fairer world. I think of Francis Ford Coppola, who's great wish for the future of filmmaking was that some fat, 1o year old girl would be able to take a portable camera and make a beautiful movie without huge Hollywood budgets, without crews, without the crushing EGOS that goes along with making a movie. (If you I think I'm inferring that there are crushing egos in're right! Gold star.)

That was my great wish for the web, and to some extent it's happening. But I see large companies appropiating ideas, using citizen journalists as excuses to cut staff, and continuing their same business practices. And you know what? They can. There's no law requiring thoughtful, responsible stewardship of information. (I find it amusing how reporters are decrying the loss of information and complain about the lack of restraint of citizen journalists and bloggers, but cry foul when they get criticized.)

I had hoped for a Copernican style revolution. One where our fundamental assumptions about our place in the media landscape changed irrevocably. Down was up, up was left, right was wherever. A revolution that opened the gateway to another Enlightenment period, perhaps. 

But the Enlightenment also went hand in hand with mercantilism and the foundation of economic practices that gave birth to capitalism. And that freaked out the princes and the Church that you had a more mobile, and flexible class system questioning the existing power structure. I think that's what we're seeing: the Internet has allowed us to reframe our media consumption - and production!- to question the power of the traditional structure of news industries. 

My real fear is that web-based news is going to create a more elite class of content producers, and this will divide us even more so, from the criticism of the right that the news media is biased to the left, to the criticism from the left that news media isn't responsive to the needs of citizens (and residents too for that don't have to be a citizen to be affected by issues!)

But we're also not far off where we could shoot and edit a film on our cell phones. So maybe my blueness means I'm not thinking straight. 

Or maybe I don't understand what's happening in this industry, and I wouldn't behave differently if I were in charge. And that really gives me the blues. 

No comments: