I am perpetually amused by the folks in traditional (mainstream, old guard, whatever you want to call it) media who bash on new media. First it was the blogs and how they're destroying society - until they embraced them and corporatized them, of course. Now, the current target of the mainstream media's ire seems to be Twitter and to a smaller extent MySpace and Facebook.
This New York Times article is a treatise on the vanity and bad journalism creeping into TV news and how Twitter and other social media have no utility but are just other means of feeding the cult of personality.
Left alone in a cage with a mountain of cocaine, a lab rat will gorge itself to death. Caught up in a housing bubble, bankers will keep selling mortgage-backed securities -- and amassing bonuses -- until credit markets seize, companies collapse, and millions of investors lose their jobs and homes.
And news anchors and television personalities who have their own shows, Web sites, blogs and pages on Facebook.com and MySpace.com will send Twitter messages until the last follower falls into a coma.
Seriously? We're now comparing new media to lab rats with mountains of cocaine? I find the hyperbole utterly ironic. I mean, the author is lamenting the fall of proper, traditional journalism by, well, employing the same techniques she is lambasting in the article.
Those who say Twitter is a harmless pastime, which skeptics are free to ignore, are ignoring the corrosive secondary effects. We already live in an era of me-first journalism, autobiographical blogs and first-person reportage. Even daytime cable news is clotted with Lou Dobbsian anchors who ooze self-regard and intemperate opinion.
While I agree with the author that there has been journalistic decline in television news, it isn't caused by social media tools like Twitter. TV news has been trending toward sensationalism for years. Ever hear the phrase, "If it bleeds, it leads"? That little nugget of wisdom has been around longer than the Internet itself.
TV news stopped being "journalism" long ago. It's info-tainment, not journalism. It's a profit-center, not a service. It's about ratings, not the news. So why blame services like Twitter (or MySpace or Facebook) for a problem that existed before they were a twinkle in their creator's eye?
In 2007, newspaper revenues showed the biggest decline since 1950 - the first year the Newspaper Association of America started tracking data. Online revenues were up, but only represented 7.5% of the total ad revenue for newspapers.
The NAA hasn't released the 2008 numbers yet, but I'm willing to bet they aren't any better. Just look at the recent news. The San Francisco Chronicle is on the verge of bankruptcy. The Rocky Mountain News, Colorado's oldest newspaper, just published its last issue on Friday. You don't need revenue data to see what's happening all over the country.
This is more about traditional media's fight for relevance in the new media age. Few of them make as much money as they spend online. Most print media is seeing declining subscriptions and ad revenue. The New York Times isn't immune from this turn of events and they need a whipping boy.
Rather than castigating new media and those who use it, The New York Times could learn a thing or two from the likes of CNN's Rick Sanchez or MSNBC's David Gregory. Sanchez went from last in the cable news ratings game to first by using social media to interact with his viewers. I haven't seen the numbers for Gregory, but I'd imagine he's also seen a bump from his prolific use of social media.
People want to be engaged, they want to know what's going on behind the scenes. They want to interact with these stories, not just wait to be fed the news. Sure, it's different for print than for TV, but that doesn't mean it won't work. In fact, I'd say that social media tools like Twitter are better suited for use with print media. They are, after all, text based services too.
But rather than embrace this brave, new world it seems the Times would rather rage against the machine. This has been the same stance most newspapers and magazines have taken. That strategy isn't working, so maybe it's time to look at what does work.
Reporters don't have to give up journalistic integrity to interact with the audience and social media won't be its downfall either. There are many ways to use these tools that don't impugn the probity of the profession.
Start a dialogue with your readers. Let them in on the ins and outs of what it takes to be a proper journalist. Most people have no idea how much work it takes to write a story for a newspaper.
- What's the process? Tell us about it.
- What did you do to research it? I'm sure there are plenty of interesting bits to tell there.
- What was cut from the print edition? Point out the extra information that didn't make it.
There are all sorts of ways to maintain professionalism and still use these gizmos and widgets that seem to perplex the old guard. We still need proper journalists. We still need well-funded and far-reaching news gathering organizations... But we don't need as many as we used to.
If you want to come out on top and survive the coming carnage, new media is your lifeline. Trashing it and comparing it to a mound of cocaine or the bonuses of greedy financiers is folly and will only hasten the slide into irrelevance.
Find me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/jerame