Things have fallen quite a bit off track around here, but there’s been a significant debate starting up about the place of new media and old media when it comes to the future of journalism. As much as I advocate for the use of new technology in improving communications efficiency, the interests and concerns of old media can’t be completely ignored. While I doubt the doomsday scenarios they’re proposing for the sake of bolstering their own position, they do point out some things that new media will need access to if they’re going to become the new gatekeepers to information and news.
Trust and Reputation
I’m going to answer this one in the negative – precisely by asking how much trust and reputation the old media has left. FoxNews is a running joke in many circles, and the alternative mainstream news outlets aren’t too much more serious. While every major outlet claims and brags about objectivity, serious media analysts can find bias and blatant self-interest in just about every article or sound byte.
Meanwhile, web publishers know that surfers are more skeptical about the information and promises they find online. Back in the 90s, people may have been more likely to click ads believing they could win something, but we’ve seen enough scams and hacks to become a much more cynical web-based culture. Of course, it doesn’t stop the scammers from trying to overcome individual skepticism with pure volume, but serious webmasters who want to cash in on the long run know that they have to keep their reputation squeaky clean. The New York Times could recover from falsified stories and plagiarism, but Bob’s random politics blog won’t get such a significant second chance.
Access to the Feed
Currently, the news feed is the Associate Press Wire. This service sort of sprung up spontaneously around the old system of technological limits. If new media – the social media – is really going to replace the old establishments and institutions we need a public version of the AP Wire.
In some respects, online press releases help fulfill this purpose, and in others, political press conferences and public speeches fill in other gaps. Unfortunately, who is going to attend the press conferences? It isn’t practical for every political blogger to fly to D.C. every time there is a new story, so how much can people in California really add to the process of news coverage?
Increasingly, such conferences can be digitized. Bloggers can attend virtually, and perhaps even someday a few will be recognized from the web to ask questions across a teleprompter.
The only problem is, this gives the politicians a whole lot of control over what ever gets reported. (Not that they don’t already keep a pretty tight lid on that).
Meanwhile, They Legislate Against Innovation
Between today in 2009 and the day when new media becomes the primary source for news, the government and old institutions will undoubtedly attempt to hold back the tide of progress and innovation. Between fears of ignorant journalism and a lack of hard investigation, proponents of the status quo will likely seek legislation to subsidize their operations and penalize those who benefit from reproducing the information they want to monopolize.
But it just won’t work forever – knowledge wants to be free, and people want to share it. Its just not clear exactly how the chips will fall in to place. As online publishers though, it is clear that we have to hold ourselves to the highest standards and resist any special favors for more traditional publishing firms. We benefit when ideas cannot be claimed as exclusive property and the channels of communication are wide-open, and I believe that means the greater interest of society is on our side. That just doesn’t mean everything will magically happen like it should…