Lament for a Dying Medium
It’s ‘Celebrate Old Media Day’ here at the League of Ordinary Gentlemen, and following Freddie on Gladwell on Free, I thought I’d chime in with my own appreciation for the news industry. Like Freddie, I’m not sure things are getting better, and I tend to think recent events bear this out. The revolution in Iran, widely-lauded by many as some sort of unmitigated triumph for the blogosphere, is perhaps the best example of why we need newspapers and news agencies. We need Tehran Bureaus (and no, I’m not talking about this one, however admirable its first-hand reporting has been) to understand what’s going on in Tehran. We need reporters on the ground, doing their best to formulate a systematic picture of what’s actually happening. And we need editors with experience, access, and money, with the wherewithal and resources to send reporters and analysts into dangerous places to get the news for us.
Maybe this is a romantic view of news gathering, but I think we’re guilty of buying into an equally romantic vision of the future of new media. Twitter, YouTube videos, first-hand accounts of clashes with riot police circulating around the blogs; these are all fascinating nuggets of information. But taken individually, detached from any broader context, they mean very little. In some cases, they’re downright deceptive. Does anyone think Twitter users in Tehran represent an accurate cross-section of Iranian opinion? I suspect rural farmers are slightly under-represented, though perhaps they’ve got a hashtag floating around somewhere (Reactionary Rural Iranians on Twitter – RRIT?). More significantly, does anyone think the spectrum of tweets highlighted on Andrew Sullivan’s blog represents an accurate cross-section of Iranian opinion? This is not to criticize Sullivan, but he’s one man with two interns, not a news agency with access to credible sources on the ground.
New media enthusiasts started out by criticizing the way newspapers report the news, but in recent years the debate seems to have shifted from a critique of their methodology to a critique of the very notion of professional news-gathering. We’ve gone from conservatives criticizing the media for liberal biases to conservatives criticizing the need for a “mainstream media” in the first place. So now we’re saddled with ridiculous outfits like Pajamas Media, which purports to replace newspapers but is in fact parasitically dependent on their reporting. Original commentary is all well and good, I suppose, but there’s not exactly a dearth of opinion floating around the blogosphere.
And now for my dirty little confession: I want somebody to filter my news consumption for me. I want editors and fact-checkers and analysts to sift through the news of the day, ferreting out false information and reporting on the relevant stuff. I want experts available to inform me. Yes, I know – I have no agency; I’m ceding control of information to corporate media conglomerates who want only to dictate my consumption patterns; I’m playing into the hands of an establishment that has no interest in serious reporting. But here’s the thing – I want a filter for news consumption. I’m not qualified to come up with informed opinions about the issues of the day absent some sort of expert analysis. I think blogs have levelled serious and worthy criticisms about the way we report the news in recent years, but these are reasons to change the filter, not get rid of it altogether.