Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Is this blog killing Yachting World?

Ok, maybe a bit of a drama queen of a title, but its a long post and there's no pictures, so had to do something. Maybe you should get a cup of coffee as well.

Its one of the hottest topics at the moment, and of real importance to all of us. How will those that rely on the printing press, in particular the newspapers and magazines, cope with the internet and will that lead to a lowering of the quality of information?

When the income from the web from advertising is so low and the cost remains the same something has to give, and there has been a lot of articles bewailing the harmful affect of Google on newspapers and corresponding replies of rubbish - its the internet stupid, and Google is just the messenger.

But Elaine Bunting's post on the YW site makes a good point, in that the internet brings its own problems, in particular trust. Something like the New York Times has a reputation built up over many years and people who's job it is to fact check while blogs like this could for all you know be the fantasy of a 12 year old living in Shanghai.

One comment though got my goat - that blogs aren't as good as print as its all too simple to cut 'n' paste an article. Well let me tell you a little story.

I remember a few years ago ex President of Iran Mohammad Khatami went on a lecture tour of the United States. I find the whole US - Iran dynamic interesting, particuarly as its based on a whole series of misconceptions on either side, and Khatami in particular for being a moderate and not crazy like some could mention.

As I read on a UK based news organisation web site, one of the reasons for the tour, he explained, was to try to get his message direct to the American people as the media all too often demonised his country.

Ho, hum, thinks I, it will be interesting to see how that speach is reported across the pond, so went to Google News and found two facts out:

1) That aspect of his speach wasn't reported in any of the US based newspapers I checked

2) While there were many, many US newspapers, some from cities I remember visiting like Cleveland, Houston, San Diego, Seattle, all of those reported the speach the same way. I mean exactly the same, word for word the same, cut and paste the same (from AP if I remember right)

And you just have to look at various news sources that claim to be "fair and balanced" to know that truth isn't guaranteed in mainstream media either.

So I don't buy the argument that the print media as a paragon as originality any more than truth and honesty: in practice they are all too happy to print a nice PR note and put Paris Hilton at the top of the running order.

It is worrying because as citizens we need a free press and it is costly to have people on the ground, hacks prepared to sit through intermiably dull local council planning meetings and be shot at in dusty far away places.

But is there an alternative? I recently read this great post (that I recommend that everyone reads) that looks at a range of funding models including advertising and micro payments and basically says we are in the middle of a revolution and we don't know where we are going or where we will end up but the current model has hit its iceburg and like the Titanic is going down.

Should we fight to preserve these papers then? I'm certainly going to say no, because what I want to save is the journalism not the medium.

I check the news on various online sources far too often, several times a day. But not one of those sources is one of the US mainstream media (MSM). If even the New York Times was pulled down by its debts tomorrow I would be very sorry for the people but not an institution which has failed too often, and is failing now.

Yes it has won recently another clutch of Pulitzers and they are well deserved but all too often these are the exceptions rather than the rules and big stories are broken and followed up in blogs. The Webby is the prizes of the future.

The only news or information web sites in the US I check on a day to day basis are all blogs. Partly because the MSM is so parochial, but also because blogs can cover topics that interest me in so much more detail, richer, more responsive, more interestingly. Often stories come from participants: why read someone's report of a race when you can read stories from the racers themselves?

As Elaine says the unpaid blogger would find it hard to get the same reportage on (say) Somali pirates as a BBC reporter on the scene. But even there things are changing. US blogger Philip Weiss covers topics related to the Middle East and wanted to be able to go to AIPAC and the Gaza Strip to report directly and so he put out an appeal using PayPal and within a few days had raised enough.

The Obama campaign also showed that web based funding can raise huge amounts.

Of course there is the danger that the stories that covered will be the ones with money but the same is true to an even greater degree for the print world (consider the influence that billionaire Rupert Murdoch has on newspapers and TV stations world wide)

Apart from direct funding number of models might work, including micro payments (which I still feel has a lot of potential) or even state funding (the BBC approach, possibly replacing the TV licence with a broadband tax). The latter may be unpopular and indeed a classic case of taxation without representation but god bless the Beeb - the best value broadcaster in the world.

It is probably too early to say which will dominate and it is likely to vary by country and for their to be a range of levels from multi-national cross sub-sidising organisations like the BBC to Twitter.

But putting the ability to report in the hands of us the people of the world can only be a huge plus. Indeed while blogger Phil Weiss has raised enough money to visit Gaza it could be argued that his trip is less necessary due to the web, as there are bloggers there reporting on day to day life.

In the Shirky post he likened it to the transformation after the invention of the printing press, and how in the early years no one knew what was to work. There was a lot of experimentation and over the years there have been models than have come and gone (such as the pamphleteers).

But I'll end with his ending: "No one experiment is going to replace what we are now losing with the demise of news on paper, but over time, the collection of new experiments that do work might give us the journalism we need".


David Fuller said...

It's quite quaint that Elaine seeks to argue that media and journalism are somehow about the truth. Aside from a couple of (rare) independent outlets, the mainstream media is guilty of some of the most ill-advised, poorly researched journalism that you could possibly hope to find.

there are a couple of state funded exceptions - the BBC, or Australia's ABC, but most newspapers are just lobbying tools these days for their owners who seek to influence politics, markets and customers.

What I find most strange is that the technology is somehow to blame for bad reporting. that the false stories appeared on the internet is neither here or there. It could have been amateur radio, telegraph or smoke signals.

Good media is good media. those with influence or who are seen to provide a product that is worth consuming will do better than those who publish tat, whether it be a magazine that is part of the same company as CNN or a blog.

JP said...

Absolutely agree with that.

There's a problem with print and until recently tv of concentration into the power of a handful of corporations.

There's this re-enforcing trap whereby the media is pressured to only ask easy questions in interviews or on topics that the interviewer is happy talking about or the interview will be cancelled.

That sort of behaviour, where there are "approved" questions means the interview is usually meaningless and we should have a banner on the bottom of the screen during the interview describing it as occurring under censorship.

Diversity and independence must be at the core of journalism and if the MSM are unable to provide that then they will deserve to fail.

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