When conversations turn to the rivalry between Old Media and the Pajamahideen, I try to steer another course. Blogging, rightly understood, isn't going to take down newspapers, magazines, and TV, it's going to energize them. The adversarial rhetoric mostly just gets in the way.
Still, there are times when Old Media begs for a resounding dope slap. Yesterday's splashy story in the Wall Street Journal, ambitiously titled How Old Media Can Survive in a New World, is one such invitation. "Here's a look at what's ailing various media industries," the report begins, "and what our experts suggest to cure their ills."
The two-page spread opens with an 8-inch-tall hunk of meaningless clip art. It divides itself into sections on TV news, TV entertainment, newspapers, advertising, books, movies, and music. For newspapers, here are the Journal's recommendations:
"Think more about news, less about paper." Among the brief list of suggestions, we're told that "some reporters should be allowed to craft blogs about their topic of expertise."
"Let readers customize their newspaper." In other words, portals will save the day: "For example, newspapers might allow their readers to click a few buttons and see all of a paper's coverage about local politics."
"Follow the reader around." If portals won't save us, then maybe alerts will: "Two or three times a day, I think I might be interested in catching up on sports events or some kind of breaking-news event that was of national stature."
Does that sound like a successful turnaround formula to you? Me neither.
From my perspective, blogs aren't optional extras that "some reporters" should be "allowed to craft." They're essential tools -- and not just for journalists, but for every professional person. Collectively we'll use the blog network to document, discover, and validate expertise.
Who, for example, is Brian Steinberg, the author of the above recommendations? The Journal asserts that he is one of "our experts." Google tells me he's a WSJ staff reporter. At ad-rag.com I learn that he's the Journal's "advertising reporter" and I dig up a reference to an audio appearance on theadvertisingshow.com. These sources suggest to me that Steinberg was probably the right guy for the future-of-advertising blurb (which he also contributed), but perhaps not for the future-of-newspapers blurb.
I'm not just throwing rocks at the WSJ, by the way. This kind of thing can happen at every publication -- including, mea culpa, InfoWorld. Happily, we're entering a world in which expertise isn't merely an assertion, it's a transparently discoverable reality. The skills and knowledge of reporters, writers, and editors, like the skills and knowledge of their sources -- the folks whose ideas and experiences inform publications -- can be and will be documented on the public web.
It's understandable that this radical accountability would terrify Old Media. Of course their stalkers, the Pajamahideen, are likewise accountable. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. Most professional lives will be open to inspection, most significant achievement will be well-documented, most reputations will be measurable.
If you're a lawyer or teacher or city planner or scientist, why would you invite such scrutiny? That's the wrong question to ask. Think about it like this instead. On your blog, you can document your public agenda better than anyone else can. If you've ever been interviewed by a newspaper reporter, you know the drill. An hour of careful explanation may be reduced to a quote that makes you cringe. What hasn't occurred to most people yet is that you can publish that careful explanation yourself. Or that, when you do, the web's aggregation engines will surface your words in appropriate contexts, and will help people measure their impact.
Where journalism intersects with public agendas, its sources of raw information and opinion will increasingly be visible. That's a feature, not a bug! Not everyone can gather, dig, sift, sort, analyze, and synthesize. Most people rely on journalists to do these things because most people have other jobs to do. In a more transparent world, journalists will be able to probe more deeply and synthesize more powerfully -- and we will be able to trust and verify their methods.
If you buy this argument, note that the burden of reform is not borne solely by Big Media. Yes, these institutions will need to engage with the blogosophere, but so will everyone who seeks to advance a public agenda. A while ago, Dave Winer nailed this. In a knowledge-based economy, narrating your work becomes part of everyone's job. That narration produces artifacts we call blogs. They'll transform Big Media, but only because they'll transform society.
Former URL: http://weblog.infoworld.com/udell/2005/05/24.html#a1237