Friday, March 23, 2007

A Day Without Newspapers?

There are a lot of people making hay with "new media." Bloggers are influencing politics at the local, national and international level. Some folks (certainly not me) are making money with their blogs. How much of this work is truly independent? I would suggest that a tiny sliver of it stands on its own. Humor columnist Jeff Kramer, in a piece published in the Syracuse Post Standard, got my attention when he wrote that most "new media" are just parasites clinging to the droopy rump of a struggling host animal. Wow. He's making a point that newspapers still set the standard for news, that print media is the engine driving the train.

Kramer is proposing a day without newspapers, just to see what happens. That's all I want. Just one day. No post Standard. No New York Times. No USA Today.
For 24 hours, let the shock jocks, "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart," the bloggers and the rest of the "new media" darlings run with the ball. We'll see how far they get when they don't have their cloddish "old media" brother clearing a path through the clutter
Boy, does he have a point. A lot of local TV stations, for instance, bluster about not "taking stories out of the paper," but just watch local news carefully. You will see versions of stories you easily could have read earlier that day. That's not to say that TV newsrooms are not enterprising their own stories. They are. The daily paper, though, absolutely is a significant tool in their editorial processes. Kramer addresses that, imagining how a local newscast might look if the producers and anchors don't have a newspaper to pore over:
TV Anchor Person: "Good evening, everyone. Normally this is when we rehash what we read in this morning's paper, but because The Post-Standard and every other newspaper didn't publish today, all we have is this breaking story about a cat named Snuggles playing with a large sock."
That's harsh, but you get his point. You will hear people say with more and more frequency that they don't read newspapers. They do, but they just don't know it. Or, as Kramer puts it:
Non-newspaper readers need to be helped to understand that most of the content they devour from other sources isn't coming from elves working at the headwaters of The Magic Google News Brook.
If your primary source of news is the net, that's okay. If you want local news on the net, go to The Times' website, then visit all three local stations' pages (KSLA, KTBS, KTAL). That should illustrate this point quite well.
Some of our favorite stops for news and entertainment on the web are merely gateways to other media. I hadn't really thought it through, but parasitic may be an appropriate word in many cases.
Bloggers have a role other than feeding off the life blood of the mainstream media. When they perform well, a valuable service is provided. As Kramer would no doubt agree, the old guard media can and will abuse its power. Sometimes, old-school journalists get it wrong or even make it up. The Constitution gurantees the right of a free press in this country, primarily to hold the powerful accountable for their actions. The framers could not have envisioned what the media has become and will become. Still, the system works. That's the wonderful thing about "new media." It participates in the process of holding the powerful accountable, even when the power rests in the hands of the "old media."
It would be hard to argue with Kramer's final plea to give the papers a day off: "...stop the presses. Give the beast a day to rest. Something tells me we'll miss the old guy."

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Unknown said...

What about radio folks, the morning paper and razor blades? Were you around then?

Darrell said...

I don't get the razor blade reference. I guess I wasn't around.


Unknown said...

Back in the day, many a morning dj would use a razor blade to slice up the newspaper, cutting out the stories he or she wanted to do "bits" about. There were plenty of blades scattered around because that was when reel-to-reels were used. Of course, if any other day part wanted to use the paper they were out of luck since the best stories had probably been tossed into the trash or taped into a spiral notebook toted around by the morning guy.