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Either, Or? It's Neither
Commentary: Why the split between "old" and "new" media doesn't make any sense- February 2, 2007
Either you're Nick Lemann, dean of Columbia J-school, saying "citizen journalism" is at best a supplement to the mainstream -- and something you won't do once you have a family and expenses and actually are a grownup -- or in the words of blogger and consultant Susan Merritt, the day "is passing fast" when the likes of The New York Times can tell us what to think. (Did it ever, really?) Michael Arrington says the "traditional media" want to destroy his TechCrunch blog, while "professional journalists" call him out for refusing to give up friendships with the tech crowd he writes about, which he openly discloses.
Frankly, I'm not sure anymore what traditional, or "mainstream media" is. TechCrunch has rocketed to the top 10 in Technorati and become increasingly influential even as Arrington dismisses the journalistic purists. The New York Times' Nick Kristof, columnist for the most mainstream of mainstream media, blows off steam on his blog in a sometimes less than politically correct way. LA Times columnist Joel Stein said he didn't give a hoot what his readers thought -- that it wasn't about participation -- then mysteriously ended up doing a chat on the site. Meanwhile, a blog, PaidContent.org, gives me the blow-by-blow at the most corporate of media business conferences while Brian Stelter on mediabistro.com's TVNewser blog writes for everyone from Brian Williams and CNN chief Jon Klein on down in the TV news biz. Even uber-blogger Jeff Jarvis can seem mighty mainstream to me. He's now not only a program director at a very accredited educational institution, but also recently wrote his Buzz Machine blog from inside that most insider of inside-y conferences in Davos. Wrote Jarvis while there: "I say media companies must turn from owning content to enabling networks." Well, sure, but why can't they do both at the same time? Doesn't someone who foots the bill of creating content have the right to own it, even as they put it into a networked environment? It's not either aggregator, or producer. It's both.
People talk about not "getting" blogging, not understanding DIGG or any other of Web 2.0 (or Semantic Web or 3.0 or whatever) tools, but, to loosely quote billionaire media maverick Mark Cuban (is he mainstream media, or an outsider?), it's really not about the technology, but rather the user and how they use the medium. I oversee a blog network, but I don't "get" blogging, because it can't be gotten. I do get what our bloggers are doing and how we're using the medium and technology, and at least some of the new levels to which we can take it. I also keep a close eye on how much we spend, and know how much money we can hope to make -- all of which is a different agenda than a million other blogs with their own agendas.
The Diversity of Blogs
At the recent Digital Magazine News conference, I thought Engadget blog chief Peter Rojas might step off the stage and punch a magazine exec who was asserting that readers couldn't trust blogs because they are unreliable. But blogging is no more one, single thing than TV or radio or magazines are. Just because they're the same medium doesn't mean they have anything to do with each other. What, after all, is the similarity between The News Hour and Survivor, between The Atlantic Monthly and Hustler? Pretty inconsequential, I'd say. And there's more dissimilarity among the blogs, because they have more radically different technologies and presentations and modes of transmission and distribution -- not to mention individuals with their own personalities.
I have watched the attempts to parse "new" vs. "old" media become increasingly absurd. Recently I was in a room with a bunch of people trying to decide if an award entrant's Web site was eligible because it was not, as required, "synchronous" with a TV show. What does "synchronous" mean in a TiVo/iPod/BitTorrent/digital cable world? If I choose to watch a football game 18 hours after it's broadcast, and access the game's stats then, that's my choice, not the proprietors'. In other awards judges have contorted themselves trying to figure out if a site was part of a magazine or not, represented a newspaper and so on -- rather than just looking at the site on its merits as it's consumed by people looking at it. Does anyone judging the Academy Awards care to what extent the movie in question is based on a novel or magazine article?
The debates are straw horse vs. straw dog. It's not an either-or proposition, this blog-vs.-MSM thing. Cathie Black, president of Hearst, seemed to have that idea in her head at a recent breakfast when she acknowledged previously pooh-pooh'ing the idea of digital media in the past, but talked about print and digital interchangeably that morning. Perhaps media thinker Dave Winer, had it right when he wrote on Jarvis' blog: "Professionals are paid to do what they do, amateurs do it without pay, for love. It's one of the few distinctions that is real and matters." Then again, I know a lot of people who, in the current media environment, are getting paid to do something they love.
Dorian Benkoil is editorial director of mediabistro.com
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