With the supposed death of journalism looming over media junkies worldwide, it’s easy to wave off plenty of media innovations as passing fads while we mourn our shrinking paychecks or lost jobs. But there’s a new kid on the block that I’m ridiculously excited about– Symbolia, a new magazine for comics journalism. I’m biased about this particular innovation on two fronts: I’m a comics nerd & artist myself (a new collection of stories from me is due out Spring 2013), and Symbolia’s creator, Erin Polgreen, has been a friend and co-conspirator since our days in the independent media movement in the US. But with its launch on Monday, Symbolia has accomplished two major feats: elevated the status of illustrated, sequential art as a form in a neglected space, and created a new space for us to reimagine what journalism can look– and feel– like. [Start now: download Symbolia for iPad from iTunes, or get thePDF version.]
Though it’s been eight months since I actually launched the crowdfunding for my book (and then wrote about how it was going), it seems to have kicked up a new firestorm of discussion over the past weekend. Much of it began on Twitter; then a few people wrote up blog posts covering it. I only discovered the discussion after it was well underway (evidently I’m difficult to track down online, and not much of a conversationalist anyways, heh), so the last few days have been spent correcting factual errors and offering catch-up insight as to why I believe so deeply in this model. I’m hoping now to sum up a few of the arguments I’ve made elsewhere, but moreso I’d like to pull back and look at some big picture issues.
For background, here are the series of posts that sum up the first discussions on Twitter, and subsequent responses:
There seem to be two sets of argument made against crowdfunding in much of the discussion I’ve seen: one, it reveals the funding seeker as a shameless self-promoter and snake-oil salesperson; two, it destroys the ethos of publishing either by allowing publishers to never have to produce advances again, or by allowing just any ol’ work to be produced without blood/sweat/tears.
We touched on so many different angles of the changing media landscape during yesterday’s roundtable on GRITtv that my brain really got going on a bunch of tangents and points that I’m hoping to synthesize here.
1. On foreign correspondents: John MacArthur (publisher of Harper’s) made reference to the fact that they have a reporter on the ground in Iran doing some pretty intense work for Harper’s, and that it costs money to keep him sustained. I’m sure that it does. However, it made me wonder a couple of things–using this case as a jumping off point, not as a target itself necessarily–namely, is the best journalism in a situation like what we’re seeing in Iran produced by an American (presumably white) man? (Even if the person in question “speaks Farsi and has an Iranian wife.”) Not that this would save the magazine any money, but couldn’t we be thinking less about foreign correspondents and more about using local journalists/citizens to aid with not just reporting, but contextualizing the events?
2. On authority — who has it, who gives it: Mario Murillo made the point that a lot of news or information isn’t valid until it appears on CNN or any of the other cable news networks. This is at least partially true for a lot of people, but I firmly believe that’s shifting. We’re moving into an age of shifting authority. Think about how we recommend movies to one another– we have an idea of who our friend is doing the recommending, what movies they’ve liked in the past, and how much we have in common, amongst a myriad of other factors. Based on those, we figure out if the awesome movie review is really going to be all that awesome for us.
There’s a similar process happening for news: in an older model of news gathering and dissemination, it did require a large organization with tons of resources to say, “This is what’s happening.” But because of elimination of need for lots of resources when it comes to telling stories, we can know judge what’s valid or true with an entirely different set of criteria. Do I trust this person or organization? Why? What kind of track record do they have?
That’s not to say that social media hasn’t been problematic when it comes to live reporting. Just last weekend, there was a building collapse in Brooklyn, and two false addresses were posted to Twitter before the correct one was. (and I admittedly re-tweeted false addresses, too!) We have to refrain, however, from demonizing the tools as faulty, and instead create solutions using the same or other tools. Check out what Amanda Michel says about volume as verification— when a number of people post, say, similar videos from a protest, we might then assume that the protest is happening as depicted.
3. On future models of media: At the roundtable, I suggested that trying squeeze an open framework (the Internet) into a capitalist, market-based system is misguided (much to the chagrin of MacArthur next to me, who praised Harper’s use of a paywall, but spoke nothing about their overall funding model). I’m no business-side expert of publishing, and most of my media beliefs come out of an activist mindset. What I do know, though, is that it’s not just silly and dismissive, but also dangerous to suggest that social media are the cause of the desperate state that many news organizations find themselves in.
Again, I ask: what are the tools we need to solve our problems here? When I’m doing work with my clients, it’s easy for them to get caught up in the buzziest, shiniest new things. “We need a blog! We’ve got to get on Facebook! Let’s start Twittering!” Of course I’ve totally drunk the Kool-Aid on all those services, but I don’t always advocate their use for everyone. Instead, I ask folks to take a step back and look at what mission they’re trying to achieve. From there, we’ll find or develop tech to fit that mission.
A couple of folks are taking this approach to investigative journalism, as I mentioned in the show– David Cohn’s Spot.Us always comes to mind first. Steve Katz of Mother Jones has wondered how to turn this into a larger model of sustainable journalism, and I recommend his blog for excellent musings on the subject. But please, media folk: I swear, we come in peace. Don’t throw the tech out with the bathwater.
4. Decrying the end of Good Journalism: In which I let the idealist in me speak, more than I already normally do… I don’t know anyone, honestly, that gets a huge kick out of watching cable news regurgitate infotainment like they do. So, using that as a model of what we think Americans want when it comes to news reporting is not the right model. I firmly believe that good journalism–whether it’s “professional” or “amateur”–will rise above the mediocre and less-than-savvy.
I think about the format change that New York Magazine made earlier this year; it now includes a more schizoid-designed front section that I presume is supposed to replicate my experience with websites. Thing is, I don’t subscribe to NY Magazine for it to be like a website; I actually like the long-form articles (and the Strategist section). I also recently started subscribing to the New Yorker because I wanted more in-depth stuff around the house, trees be damned. Me, the darling of all-things-140-characters! I don’t think I’m an anamoly, either. I don’t have the solution (yet! muwahaha), but I know it’s coming.
5. This is why media literacy education is critical. That was Simin’s final point at the roundtable, and I couldn’t agree more. We don’t teach our kids and young adults to understand the processes of media, that they might develop a more fundamental sense of the ever-increasingly complicated landscape that they face. But there are some good projects out there; I know up in Canada, my friend Dr. Mark Lipton is running the Media Education Project. (What are the American counterparts? Maybe Bernie over at PopPolitics can tell us, poke poke.)
Lots more to explore here, for sure. I’m hoping to go more in depth into each of these areas in future posts; what would you like see addressed and discussed?
I’m excited to head upstate next week, back to some old stomping grounds in Ithaca, NY. I’m participating in the Park Center for Independent Media’s symposium, and I’ll be presenting with David Mathison some thoughts on rapid response and journalism via social networking tools like Twitter. Yippie! It’ll also be good to see a bunch of friends and colleagues — Roberto Lovato (who is putting his faith in my Dunkin-Donuts-fueled driving skills, bless his heart), Tracy Van Slyke, Robert Greenwald, David Cohn, Amanda Michel… the list goes on and on.
Then a day or two of downtime with the parents while I’m in the neighborhood, which always does the soul some good. But alas, it’ll be back to the city to resume apartment hunting madness. Anyone have any leads on a dog-friendly 2 bedroom apartment in Brooklyn?
Well, well, well… it’ll be all the rage for these next 15 seconds, but Time has basically crowned “Web 2.0″ the official whiz-bang-iest thing out there right now. It’s all about you and me, and what we do with ourselves online these days. I read a great post over at Read/Write Web dissecting what Time got right, and what they got terribly wrong (note: this is not a “revolution”)… man, this is such a strange media moment.
Brian Williams, the darling of NBC, had this to say:
We work every bit as hard as our television-news forebears did at gathering, writing and presenting the day’s news but to a smaller audience, from which many have been lured away by a dazzling array of choices and the chance to make their own news.
Err… um, well, no. Trust me, Brian, those folks not watching the evening news, it’s not because they’re off blogging. (Mom? Remember, we talked about “blogging” — people writing their own news, opinions and analysis in an online journal. Here’s the presentation I did for you guys over Thanksgiving.)
Most people are fed up with mainstream journalism pushing one side of a story (hello, WMD!), the ridiculous celebrity obsessions (she showed her what? I still don’t care), the reign of infotainment — which has its own Wikipedia entry, by the way– over corporate news. That “dazzling array of choices” isn’t just the magpie-effect, Bri. That’s the “looking for the whole, real story” effect. They’re mostly not blogging, but they are seeking independent sources of news. And that’s what NBC should have been worried about eons ago, when the interweb first landed on your doorstep.
The other thing that kills me about these discussions are the people decrying the end of culture, news, life as we know it. Just because a bunch of people digg a video showing a guy getting kicked in the package doesn’t mean there aren’t some valid attempts at art on YouTube. Does anyone actually still watch “America’s Home Videos?” I’m pretty sure it’s still on the air, and that hasn’t ended the movie industry, has it? Making creative production easier doesn’t, on its own, reduce the value of something. Inspiration and humanity = still required components of producing worthwhile culture.
I work with some media organizations that are tackling the issues of what to do with this stuff right now. I reinforce with a few of them the idea that hardcore journalism is not going to be eradicated, ever. People will continue to look for their fluff and their in-depth analysis and reporting; I know plenty of New Yorkers who read both the Times and the Post. It’s a media ecology people. It’s getting bigger and bigger, which is a Good Thing ™. People will always look for content from sources that they trust; it’s that the way the trust gets earned is changing, and that messes with the mainstream/corporate brain like nobody’s business.
I’m more excited by the stuff I see out there every day. Places like Cruxy are exploding with content that blows TV outta the water. So, when Brian Williams and the other mainstream folks put on their sourpuss faces for the 2.0 evolution, you can just tell them: Awwww, you’re just jealous.
Brad taught me about white balance on my camera, how to walk slowly enough to not mess up your picture, and to always point the mic at what you’re shooting. He was earnest and spirited — a wide smile and a big heart. He believed, and dedicated his life to showing others the truth.
News on vigils and protests, and latest reports: http://nyc.indymedia.org/en/bradleywill/archive.html
“Love is a memory that never fades. May memories be your comfort.” — anonymous