I posted yesterday on Clay Shirky’s Shock of Inclusion and New Roles for News in the Fabric of Society, published in 2010 and just as relevant today.
His essay isn’t about local media especially, but his observations are useful to assess both local news and politics.
Shirky writes about the collapse of a pipeline model of news, where professional organizations wrote and broadcast stories sent those stories downstream to be read (passively, with only limited, press-controlled opportunities for published replies) by readers or viewers.
That model’s finished – many thousands of people in each of thousands of communities have the means to publish easily and inexpensively their own views, through Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, blogs, etc. These means are a great opportunity for America, and for places like Whitewater, Wisconsin. See, along these lines, New Whitewater’s Inevitability.
The most important thing to know is that, almost without exception, those who are writing on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, blogs, etc. don’t want to become part of the old order – they don’t want a place at yesterday’s rickety table, and they’ve no taste for yesterday’s ill-prepared fare.
It’s not to become part of a fading, old-line news business, but to become part of a vastly larger and more important marketplace of ideas that these new media publishers aspire.
New media are not merely new formats; they represent a new outlook, one that produces higher standards through a vast exchange of ideas from among many different, independent publishers.
I truly like newspapers, but I have never wanted to be a reporter, wouldn’t imagine myself as one, and wouldn’t be any good at the trade in any event. I and others neither want nor need to become part of the news business – we are already citizens, for goodness’ sake, and want new arrangements, not a share in old ones.
Broadly, what does this mean for our area?
Newspapers. For happy-news, no-analysis print newspapers, new media simply mean a slow decline, and a readership increasingly old, complacent, and down-market. They’ll keep going this way until that readership fades away, with too few replacement readers.
For newspapers that aspire to be more (and in our area that’s only the Gazette), it’s sure to be a hard road. They’ve some truly smart people at the Gazette, but others who aren’t that sharp, and far too many who really don’t understand how new media have altered the landscape.
The Gazette will have the toughest time of it, because its estimation of its own role is so much greater than happy-news publications that have long since given up being more than press agents to local notables.
Their problem is made harder by being a conservative paper in a blue, working-class town. Ideological differences between the paper and many residents require an especially sharp analysis – years of a downstream, pipeline approach have left the paper too often befuddled about what its readers want, and too often taking its readers for granted.
Worse, a government-business-press coalition – a de facto editorial stance that’s just a polite description for crony-capitalist flacking – has neither popular appeal nor likelihood of practical results.
Tough times may have pushed the Gazette to feel that it needs to be supportive of major politicians and major businesses in town, but that’s the worst position to take, both ideologically and practically. In good times or bad, a city needs scrutiny of politicians and corporations, to assure high standards and respected rights for all residents.
Reading that paper and its blogs, one can guess that they’d like to sail these new waters, but don’t know how. (Ironically, newsman Scott Angus shows a markedly stronger understanding than editorialist and blogger Greg Peck.) Reading many other papers nearby, one can see that they’re not even trying.
Politicians. New media push politicians into one of three camps: (1) those who will never adapt to new media, (2) those who will pay lip service to them, and (3) those who understand new media and will profit from their understanding.
The first group includes the least-capable leaders in a city, people of limited ability who benefited from conditions of closed government. They’re incapable of improvement in their work or outlook. Mostly, this group will rely on the lowest-quality, old-style reporters to repeat unthinkingly anything that those in the group say. Since low-quality publications are waning, this group has an ever-smaller audience for their laughable lies, excuses, and shoddy work. They’ll huddle among other mediocrities, as that’s the only audience who’ll be hospitable to them.
The second group understands new media, at least in part, but having come of age in a lazier, old-media era, they’d rather pay lip-service to a more demanding critique than actually do better work. Some will retire before the pressure of a new media critique grows too much for them, others will find to their consternation that better work, not lip-service, is necessary.
The third group, one that’s destined over time to comprise most politicians and business people, both understands and will use new media effectively. They’ll be the foundation of a New Whitewater, and better communities across America.