The debate over news and new media is too often tribal. And though it may make for lively debate, tribalism impairs judgment. Yesterday, Jeff Bercovici blamed a 21-year-old stringer for the violent deaths of 24 people, including seven United Nations workers in riots in Afghanistan, after AFP published his account of a Koran-burning in Florida by Terry Jones, the unhinged pastor. The context, according to Bercovici: the report went against an informal media consensus to ignore Jones’s antics. This has been rebutted elsewhere, so I won’t go into detail on it. But there is a basic problem in arguing that journalism – communicating information about something that happened – is by definition a provocation, or that people looking to provoke, and people susceptible to provocation, won’t find some instrument to express themselves no matter what AFP does. In addition, old media is not a cartel; media outlets cannot collectively agree to “disappear” an event any more than investment banks can all agree buy stocks in order to make the market go up. And if they could, what standards are they supposed to use?

But there’s another issue here. This post – which took shots at Jay Rosen and Jeff Jarvis – was also reminiscent of Bill Keller’s attack on Arianna Huffington and the Huffington Post. As Bercovici’s subject was citizen journalism – or journalism outside the old media cartel and its values and standards – Keller’s subject was aggregation. The problem here is that “aggregation” wasn’t Arianna’s idea. It is a technological and economic feature of the web as it currently exists. It’s very easy to set up a website or an app and pull in content from many sources. This is a useful service. Sometimes this occurs illegally, and/or without permission, and the HuffPo has done some things with NYT content that the NYT doesn’t appreciate. But if that’s really the problem, a magazine column isn’t the place to deal with it.

By personalizing the issue, Keller trivialized it. Aggregation is a force that that legacy media must grapple with. (Indeed, the NYT does some aggregating of its own.) Markets, technology, clicks and eyeballs aren’t personal. Attacking individuals instead of acknowledging this reality is unserious. The problem here is oversimplifying and anthropomorphizing complex forces, putting a human face on uncontrollable trends the writer disdains. This a common feature of politics – which should tell you something. It’s a terrible way to do journalism. For journalists, anecdotes can carry great power, but in each of these instances the anecdote collapses under the weight of the subject it’s supposed to exemplify. The broader problem here is viewing new media from a position that is simultaneously both defensive and dismissive. That is not a good frame of mind to bring to bear on a rapidly emerging global economic and social phenomenon. The forces being unleashed by new media and social media are formidable. And for journalists, worthy of respect and a sincere effort to understand them. Even if they piss you off.

I was originally aiming for a “Sopranos”-style ending at T/S rather than going with the typical farewell post. Journey on the jukebox. Onion rings. Ominous stalkers. Suddenly, a black screen! But what the heck. I’ve blogged in a variety of forums, and True/Slant was special in its combination of flexibility and journalistic credibility. (And also that it paid you.) It was also a great community, a portal to an array of interesting subjects and journalism about them. It was a great new media/journalism experiment, and I hope that it sparks more innovation.

Thanks to all for reading and commenting. To follow my work post-T/S, the best thing to do is to follow me on Twitter. There’s also my own website/blog. My blogging will show up there and also at the Huffington Post, the Guardian and other venues.

At first, I couldn’t quite understand why David Weigel, the Washington Post politics blogger who just resigned, would merit his own feeding frenzy. He’s not Helen Thomas: he hasn’t been around for 60-plus years, nor does he have a front-row seat in the White House briefing room, nor has he uttered on-camera statements that many people consider offensive or outside the bounds of political discourse.

Instead, one of his offenses was … dancing, maybe a little strangely, at a wedding. This was truly a feeding frenzy worthy of a Seinfeld episode.

Seriously, Weigel is a talented journalist who added a fresh perspective to the Washington Post. He should not have been booted out for what he did. Why was he? The Weigel Incident does illustrate some of the biggest fault lines and flaws of Washington journalism. Here are a few: (more…)

“I do not believe that Newsweek is the only Catcher in the Rye between democracy and ignorance, but I think we’re one of them. And I don’t think there are that many on the edge of that cliff.” – Newsweek editor Jon Meacham on The Daily Show, commenting on his magazine’s possible sale.

If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is how I got to the top of the media establishment before I turned 30, and what my lousy time at the Washington Monthly was like and all, and my extemporaneous thoughts on the grand tradition of the American newsweekly, and all that Henry Luce kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. In the first place, that stuff bores me, and in the second place Don Graham would probably have about a half-dozen hemorrhages if I told you anything personal about him. So I’ll just tell you about this madman stuff that went on in May just before I got run down and had to come out here to take it easy. (more…)

Michael Hirschorn is getting hammered for his speculation in the Atlantic that the New York Times could be out of business in a few months. Obviously, that’s unlikely. But his overall thrust – that the Times print edition will likely fade away and be supplanted by something that resembles the Huffington Post, a combination of aggregator and original journalism – is probably correct. The Times is, of course, the best newspaper in America, and the breadth of what it covers is remarkable. But let’s face it, with the huge smorgasbord of news sources available online, it’s far less remarkable than it used to be. The basic function of the daily newspaper’s print edition – to tell you all you need to know about your community (or in the case of the NYT, the world) in a single package – is no longer essential. The NYT’s relative, walled isolation online (its initial stab at aggregating notwithstanding), modeled on the daily paper experience, isn’t adapted to the way people imbibe news today.

I don’t know that the NYT-as-HuffPost outcome – which includes a fraction of the original journalism the Times does today – is inevitable, though. The Times brand has power and in may be worth more online than we think.

The paper has managed to make its business model work up to now by turning itself into a tastemaker for the boho class, embedding serious journalism amid lots and lots of lifestyle sections. People still want to be told what to wear, what to eat, and where to vacation by an (allegedly) unimpeachable cultural authority. That’s one advantage that may translate to the web (provided its purveyors actually understand the web) even as tastes fragment and diversify.

Jack Shafer finds Michael Crichton’s 1993 predictions about the impending death of the mainstream media are now sounding pretty accurate, if still a bit behind schedule. Crichton’s idea of intelligent bots that scour the web for personalized news and other content will almost certainly come to pass. What if there were, in effect, no mainstream media – no cable news, no newspapers, no traditional journalism institutions at all?

In this scenario you would get your information on, say, the Chinese earthquake from eyewitnesses posting to blogs (which your bot would translate and filter for reliability/readability), from disaster relief experts with NGOs and universities, from geologists and from satellite photography.

Journalists are trained to believe that people crave authoritative voices, and that that kind of authority comes from an institution – an organization with a history, a track record for reporting and interpreting current events. But in the emerging media universe (call it the cloud model) news institutions are in decline and authoritative individuals and loosely-defined organizations (for example, the Huffington Post) are on the rise. More “authoritative individuals” are on the web every day; their authority derives from diverse institutions – universities, government agencies, NGOs, personal experience – and the web’s community linkages give them a reach and influence they could never achieve an an earlier era.


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