Fleurs du mal
Very compelling argument and well-stated, Clay Shirky (“Failing Geometry” CJR, September/October). Traditional media’s “original sin” (re: the Web) was to make themselves in their own image, while the alpha geeks building the Web saw things differently. Time is the new currency, and the Web’s gift to humanity is that of saving time. Legacy media is just the opposite; it’s about an infrastructure that actually wastes time, and until we get that right, we’re all simply chasing our tails. The three-legged stool is a great analogy, but the Web views it as inefficient across-the-board. As a result, it routes around the media-company leg, so the whole thing collapses.
We are in an amazing time in communications history, a time when a single individual can compete for attention alongside vaunted institutions and actually have a hope of getting through the clutter. Content marketing has lowered the over-reaching beacons of mass media by raising those of people who used to pay for the privilege of renting space next to the content of the few.
We’re deep in a transition, and nobody has even come close to figuring out exactly where it’s going or what to do. This is especially true because there is little incentive for big players to experiment. 2012 will go down as a record revenue year for local broadcasters, for example, and agencies representing the biggest ad dollars have no desire to whack their own fatted calf. So I predict it’ll get a whole lot worse before the blossoms of tomorrow begin to bloom.
Author, Reinventing Local Media
Another media unit probably worth restructuring is national journalism. The public may well be saying that we don’t need multiple formal municipal journalism outlets; one local TV station and website is enough for various regions. The national carrying capacity for news is probably something like four national papers/operations, and a single small regional operation (like WSYR in Syracuse) for the local news.
Let’s not forget that the people formerly called sources now can tell their stories and blow their whistles on popular platforms like YouTube or a special-interest blog. The forces of disintermediation have claimed reporters, but people interested in telling a story will still find people who want to know what’s going on. Plus ça change.
The endgame likely sees local journalism devolving to those with the strongest vested interest. Civic watchdogging will suffer until enough critical mass and unrest develops à la the Occupy movement. Stories will be told, institutions will adapt.
Re: “Made for you and me” by Michael Meyer, CJR, September/October)
I remember a few years ago when the Columbia Journalism Review called the Daily Oklahoman a newspaper in reverse—actually sucking the intelligence right out of the reader—and you were right. This Land is putting the intelligence back where it belongs— with new readers.
This Land gives us meatier and more substantial journalism than this area has typically offered. I am so thrilled with their success and so proud to have read it from its very first issue! Go, Michael! Go, This Land!
Not better than Ezra
Thank you, Matt Welch, for an excellent summation of what makes Ezra Klein one of our better policy advocates and analysts (“The boy in the bubble,” CJR, September/October). What I find so refreshing about Klein is his dedication to the full understanding of the matters he discusses, without indulging in the greatest downfall of most politicos with little life experience outside of academic circles; he avoids the personal and anecdotal in favor of solid research. Unlike so many other bloggers and columnists whose reliance on self-reference and occasional pithy quotes (likely Googled), Klein takes the time to build his case, present complex issues effectively, and provide plenty of references and links to back up his assertions.
Jeffrey M. Ellis
Los Angeles, CA
I’ve been an admirer of Ezra Klein’s work since the early days of the debate on health reform. As a proponent of the single-payer Canadian system, I hope I can be counted among those who urged him to study the healthcare systems of other nations.
But having done his homework on health systems that are both cost-effective and humane, Klein joined the “political feasibility” gang, allowing Barack Obama and Max Baucus to keep single-payer off the table, accepting the insurer-dominated and hopelessly inadequate Affordable Care Act. Would Klein, the objective, even-handed reporter, have used the political-feasibility argument against the suffragists, against the civil rights movement? Let’s hope not.