25 Jun Foreign correspondents, authority, social media and more: further thoughts from the GRITtv roundtable
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?