I kept listening and was a bit suspicious of all the buzzwords and catchphrases I came across. Google juice, Generation G. “Small is the new big. The mass market is dead, replaced by the mass of niches.” I couldn’t help but notice the names of the new media startups all had the same kind of flavor. Here for instance are some panelists at a new media conference at the Paley Center this very week. “newsIT.” “Contently.” “Engagio.”
You can’t make this up.
We laugh, but there IS an element of marketing and management consultancy mixed in with the news media thinking that bears keeping in mind and watching out for.
Anyway, I kept waiting to hear about things that I cared about: What about public service reporting? What about long-form, investigative narrative, which is expensive, time-consuming, risky, stressful, but is also the thing that exposes wrongdoing, clarifies public understanding, sets agendas, holds powerful institutions to account, and generates reform? What about that? Where does that fit into this new world? Never mind how to pay for it—that’s another question—but just, what about it? Isn’t that important, too? For some of us, it’s not just important. It’s the core, the key value around which healthy news cultures are built. It’s the point.
So I started to read the future of news literature, and read and read and read and read—these folks write a lot—and well, I couldn’t find much about it. I think I know why, and I’ll try to explain later. But that thing—the long-form narrative, the exposé, the investigation, the things we do—didn’t fit into what new media adherents call “the conversation.”
What I also noticed in my reading was that, while we were given to understand that the old order was not only failing but discredited—in fact failing because it was discredited—the outlines of the new order were still rather hazy. As Shirky wrote in an essay now three years old: “If the old model is broken, what will work in its place? The answer is: Nothing will work, but everything might. Now is the time for experiments, lots and lots of experiments ”
As I mentioned in my essay, most of the most influential works in future of new theory—Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody, and cognitive surplus, and Jarvis’s What Would Google Do?—dated to 2008-2010, which as you’ll no doubt recall was a time of maximum panic in the newspaper business and in the media business generally. People think of the media’s great reordering/meltdown as starting first with the tech wreck of 2000 and the subsequent ad recession, and the rise of Google and Craigslist soon after, and to some degree that’s true. But as John Morton, the leading newspaper analyst, ran the numbers and demonstrates, the most shocking plunge in values came surprisingly late, around mid-2007. That’s when revenues, which had been edging down, really fell off a cliff and stock market values of news organizations plunged. For instance, the market capitalization of the Journal Register Company, publisher of the New Haven Register and hundreds of smaller papers, fell more than 99 percent from the start of 2007 to 2009, when it finally filed for bankruptcy and was reorganized. It was during this period that what I called the future of news consensus took hold and gathered force and when what I guess I’ll have to call traditional news values and forms were in full retreat.
So the financial rout was accompanied by what can only be called an ideological ass-whipping.