June 15, 2009

Die? Thrive? Are You Conflicted On What You Want from Old Media?

If you’re one of the millions who saw the Daily Show last week, you probably saw a clip where Jason Jones took apart the New York Times, asking a staffer to find any news that happened “today”. The paper, exemplifying the “yesterday’s news” mentality that has a rapidly-increasing chasm between it and today’s real-time world, is bleeding red ink as news consumers turn elsewhere for their updates – including many of us to the Web and to blogs. But over the weekend, as the situation in Iran unfolded, and old media, including CNN, was famously slow to respond, there were practically digital pitchforks out – highlighting what was characterized as a massive failure, compared to the personal 1-1 immediate reports we got from Twitter and elsewhere.

So help me understand… Many of us are flat-out refusing to be consumers of the world’s news media, from newspapers like the New York Times and news channels like CNN, chewing away at their ad revenue. Some exult in the bad news as it streams forth – as newspapers close and journalists are sent packing. Others revel when old media makes stupid mistakes in the new world, like the AP demanding you not excerpt their stories, or other sites threatening to sue when linked to. But when a real newsworthy event hits, we hold them accountable for not being there, first to respond.

Journalism is not a charity event. Its reporters cost money, as do papers and stations’ branch offices, travel expenses, and equipment, yet many of us on the bleeding edge are all too excited to mention how we’re not paying them a dime.

There are really two ways I can look at this. One is that CNN and others are being ripped on as a way to further show how out of touch and useless they are compared with first-person reports. The second is that we want to bash the old media when we don’t need them, but flock to them when we do.

So which is it? The New York Times, Newsweek and other print publications made a name for themselves often not because of the speed of their reporting, but because of their access and their willingness to go into harms way, delivering the news in detail, often with many different reporters contributing to the story. Are individual bloggers, stationed around the world, going to pick up the slack? Can the top blogs like a Huffington Post or a TechCrunch replace the type of detailed reporting and unfettered access the mainstream old media has historically enjoyed?

That CNN did not lead the way in covering the Iran conflict this week, after decades of our relying on them to be there, as they were in Desert Storm, Operation: Iraqi Freedom, Somalia, Bosnia and others, is not up for debate. But the question is – did we really not want them to fail, or are you happy that they did?

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