I spent my whole adult life earning a living in mainstream media and the last four months working for free as a blogger so I offer myself as something of an expert on what’s going on: Corporate news media still have a long way to fall while the blogosphere has a long way to rise.
Corporate media face unsolvable problems.
Advertisers have fled to new media. Readers, particularly the younger high-consuming audience, has no use for them. Few news executives have any experience working in highly-competitive markets having spent their careers managing virtual monopolies while executives being brought in from competitive industries have no clue about journalism except what they’ve read or seen in corporate news media.
Then there’s the problem of costs. Quite simply, salaries are out of whack with the declining value of the product in the marketplace and eliminating staff further reduces the value of the product. It costs too much to send out a full camera crew. It costs too much for newsprint and delivery.
From my point of view as a newsman, the biggest problem — one that I understand much better now as a blogger — is the form itself is hopelessly broken.
When I started as a cub police reporter, half the papers in the country were going out of business because the industry was unable to compete against TV news. The old guard of reporters and editors were a rough lot, poorly paid and not well educated but they had a nose for news and knew how to get people to talk.They drank a lot and loved being out on the streets chasing stories and when their bosses pissed them off, they could cross the street and work for a competitor.
The new generation, of which I was a part, believed we were joining a noble profession and could earn a decent living doing work of great importance to society. The reality was that a whole new set of rules were being imposed in the name of the unattainable and intellectually dishonest ideal of “objectivity.”
Corporate executives running a monopoly with 30 to 40 percent profit margins had no motivation to ever rush into print or to allow any but the most skilled columnists to write with a strong point of view. Papers became homogenized and pasteurized — in a word boring. Journalists became pretentious and easily manipulated by the armies of PR operatives employed by business and government.
Those days are gone and are never coming back. Many papers will fold. Others will merge or form partnerships that would violate anti-trust laws if it were not for the fact that newspapers and TV news to a lesser extent are obsolete.
Now, look at the blogosphere. Costs are miniscule. Most people blogging earn little or nothing. Bloggers say whatever they want whenever they want to. There’s no bosses. Anyone can do it. The blogosphere is totally democratic, free enterprise at its best — and its worst.
The worst is the lack of time and skill to actually do much reporting. Bloggers live off of what the media produces, what other bloggers produce and what they generate out of their own because of their specific areas of interest.
The best is that there is actually more content and a richer variety of content from more sources — available faster and in real time — than there is in newspapers that are always a day late except for the odd exclusive.
True, the information from bloggers is sometimes dead wrong, usually incomplete and speculative and it’s often hard to separate fact from opinion.
But the bloggers I follow in L.A. work amazingly hard in most cases and are getting better with experience. Their audience is growing along with their reliability. Far more stories are available from bloggers every day on politics and community life in L.A. than the professional media produces.
And bloggers and the people who comment on blogs fight with one another on their values and points of view. There’s a public conversation that is growing stronger and broader day by day.
Take the story of the massive government raid on Leimert Park in South L.A. on Sunday in which the Jamiel Shaw family became victims of harassment because they had a table set up to pass out water and chips while drumming up support for tougher laws on illegal immigrant criminals.
The first report from the Shaw family which I blogged about sounded like an attempt at intimidation by the LAPD and other city officials who have done their best to ignore the groundswell of support for Jamiel’s Law. Many other blogs noted the report.
The next day another blogger reported LAPD officers from the local station were not involved. That was followed by another blogger’s report that it was General Services cops and the City Attorney’s office leading a city-county task force coming down hard on illegal street vendors.
Today, Councilman Bernard Parks whose district includes Leimert Park denied prior knowledge of the raid and demanded a full investigation, an aide told Zuma Dogg.
To the best of my knowledge TV and the newspapers have ignored this story although radio talk show hosts jumped all over it.
So is incomplete information as it happened, information that’s updated and challenged by multiple voices, not better than no information at all?
News in real time affects the course of events and the consciousness of the public. News long after the fact has as much impact as a tree falling in a forest with no one around.
To answer the question I posed at the outset, newspapers will survive in a shrunken form of decreasing importance.
The blogosphere will see consolidations of bloggers and major improvements in quality and credibility in the next few years and revenues will increase. Skilled journalists will earn at least some of their income blogging and reporting on the Internet and have a lot more fun doing it with their own subjective points of view out in the open than they had working in the corporate media environment.
I know I am.