28 Comments


  • It sounds kinda along the same lines as a comics documentary that was running around the webcomic circles a few weeks back: people declaring that they were worried about this bold new medium being squished by the man. (Except in this case, the bold new medium has turned into the man.) I feel that Poynter is trying to write some speculative fiction and I just can’t buy the primary premise that news organisations don’t exist in the same way. I’m not seeing blogging as the new system, so much as a component of the new system. (BTW, I wasn’t able to get through the full eight minutes. As soon as we got to 2006, I began to wonder how much of this was based on economic announcements about potential mergers and how much was the author’s own speculations, or who was behind all this crap in the first place. Somebody somewhere gets something out of trying to peddle this. It feels…name heavy.)

    Blogging could be legitimate journalism, btw, but as it is right now, it’s really more of a content distribution mechanism, and a forum for discussing that content. It’s as though we’ve replaced Ol’ Joe in a pub, as he expounds on the government, with the blog. And they aren’t replacing actual reporting so much as channelling people towards news that they think is interesting, and adding their own opinion as a rider. The opinion piece has long been part of journalism, so I more see the news-oriented and poli-blogs integrating with that aspect of more traditional journalism.

    I don’t think blogs are over, nor will they be over for quite some time to come. A lot of people tend to make the mistake of assuming that blogs are primarily for the use of dispensing news or politics. You describe the blogs as content-free gasbaggery, but this seems to overlook the myriad uses of blogs for many other reasons. I mean, among the blogs I read: religious support group blogs, miscarriage and fertility blogs, art blogs, parenting blogs, writing blogs, blogs of friends and family, recipe and cooking blogs, political blogs, gossip blogs, science blogs, and cine-blogs. The one thing that these blogs all have in common is that they are the way for me to concentrate a lot of interests at once, and get a dose of whatever interests me without having to search through a lot of other crap to do so. (Or in the case of family and friend blogs, it enables us to keep tabs on each other despite the wrenching distances which separate us and make phone calls so expensive.)

    July 23, 2005
  • Another thought to consider is that blogs may not replace major news organisations, but they could very well supplant or augment the niche markets. (We’ve been reading Guns, Germs, and Steel here, and my brain keeps trying to tell me that the internet is the advent of wheeled conveyances and the domestication of horses, allowing for some of us to specialise instead of hunting and gathering our news from what little we can find. My brain likes analogies, please bear with it.)

    For example, ex-Mormons use blogs to A) track news within the LDS church and related matters B) discuss that news and dissect the meat of the matter from the LDS propaganda machine C) discuss dogma as it relates to sociological trends in the LDS community D) provide support groups and forums for those trying to exit the LDS church. Without the internet, this level of organisation was much harder, and the information was much harder to come by. There were very few news organisations dedicated to this matter–the only one I can really think of is Sunstone, and they reviewed academic papers made by more liberal LDS members, but they were still marginally accepted by the LDS hierarchy, and thus they had to go through many contortions to keep the LDS church from trying to completely squish them. (Not entire effective, as every so often a person published in Sunstone would find themselves on the receiving end of an excommunication.) Oh, wait, and there was the Tanner’s publication, the Lighthouse or something like that–but that was still influenced by a lot of born-again Christian propaganda. With the advent of the internet, a lot of niche blogs and groups sprang up, disseminating news and links that would be of use to a lot of niche groups: ex-Mormons who were somewhat aggro towards the church, New Order Mormons still on the inside but disbelieving, humanist and secular ex-Mormons, ex-Mormons who became born again, and so on. In this case, there wasn’t much a pre-existing organisation for the blogs to supplant, nor did they remove any reason for the consumer to give up on the major news media, but they did provide a much more specialised niche and very specific knowledge that the mainstream media can’t disseminate on a regular basis without losing a large portion of its audience due to lack of interest.

    I want to discuss this more, but I have to shower and get ready to skibble off to a family reunion of sorts.

    July 23, 2005
  • Hmmmmm….funny little movie. I watched it- hey, 8 minutes is 8 less minutes I’ll spend on some other equally useless website!

    I think you hit the nail on the head with “nothing’s cheaper than the average Joe’s opinion”. My first (rhetorical) question is: how much of any given blog can currently be characterized as original content, other than the editorial aspects, and how would that ratio change if bloggers were faced with the responsibility of being newsmakers instead of filtering and op-ed sources ( let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that the most popular of bloggers had acquired the access and resources for investigative reporting, or even that said widely-read bloggers included professionals who had “defected”)?

    I think you believe, and I share this belief, that in addition to lacking skill, most people would default to gasbaggery, more in the tradition of professional pundits than professional journalists. It’s much easier, and much more rewarding (!) to become an internet celebrity than a legitimate journalist. Why create it when you can opine about it?

    So…THEN, the question would be: how much room is there for amateur media critics? Faced with the loss of print and media news to cull from, would “News-blogging” grow or get whittled down? And would this be a triumph of democracy and anti-corporate control, as that movie seemed to suggest, or would it end up as the same old crap on a different medium?

    Oh, and the FINAL question, ha ha…..was that little flash movie a serious commentary on the future of media, or just another “fuck you, Microsoft” piece? 😉

    BTW, I like your blog. So there. It’s officially beneficial!

    July 24, 2005
  • I wouldn’t be so hard on it: Much of this is true already, y’know; it’s just not very visionary. All science fiction, by nature, fails in prediction where it succeeds in making people think. I suspect this is not an unlikely future, just that it won’t go anything like the film-dude suggests it will. Much as the publishing industry was terrified of electronic publishing, of giving away books electronically, it’s not really a danger: People will always need the gatekeepers, the editors and information-sifters who help sift the gold out of the mountains of shite.

    So: Interesting, yes; but prophetic, no.

    Chris

    July 24, 2005
  • So much to respond to.

    Here’s one of my problems with blogging: it too often feels like work. In descending order of bandwidth:

    face to face conversation
    telephone conversation
    hand-written letter
    typed letter
    blogging
    e-mail
    aim

    Very often blogging (posting/commenting/responding to comments) feels like pushing steak through a straw: it takes a lot of effort to get very little meat across.

    If we (Pixelfish, Laurie and Chris) were having this conversation face to face, we’d have a lot more bandwidth to convey our messages: facial expression, body language, tone of voice, volume, and gestures (not to mention semi-tangibles like pheromones and “attitude”).

    My main point about the Flash Movie: without mainstream media to gather and report the news, all you’re left with is opinion (except for the rare case where a blogger has immediate access to newsmakers or newsworthy events). Yes, blogs function as portals, as communities of like-minded individuals, etc…, but very few bloggers bring new information to the table, and in many cases, the information they do report is untrustworthy. Why? Because bloggers don’t have editors. Becase bloggers are only responsible to themselves. Because the Secretary of State isn’t going to demand a retraction if a blogger writes that she’s a closeted lesbian with a rubber fetish.

    Even the mainstream op-ed columns I read tend to be shorter than blog entries, and are informed by the columnist’s reporting or special area of expertise (for example, a nuclear arms expert writing on weapons of mass destruction).

    And though columnists’ opinions are often misguided or even ridiculous, if a columnist prints an error of fact, he or she is usually held accoutable for it. If Paul Krugman writes in his New York Times column that, “But last month Toyota decided to put the new plant, which will produce RAV4 mini-S.U.V.’s, in Ontario. Explaining why it passed up financial incentives to choose a U.S. location, the company cited the quality of Ontario’s work force.” I can be reasonably sure that there is an automaker named Toyota, that it is building a factory in Canada, and that its spokeperson said pretty much what Krugman wrote about the company’s reasons for choosing Ontario for the new plant.

    That said, I read much more straight news than op-ed content. On any given day I’ll read the New York Times, the New York Daily News, the BBC online, Salon.com, the Washington Post, CNN.com, and one or two others from a long list, including the Miami Herald, the Times of London, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and the Portland Oregonian. (Of course I don’t read ever page—or web page—of every publication.)

    The main section of the New York Times (the “A” section) runs to twenty pages today; two of those are opinion pages—the editorial page and the op-ed page. With the exception of Salon, the ratio of news to opinion is about the same in every other publication.

    I can’t imagine taking the time and effort to analyse a similar number of blogs to determine their opinion to news ratios, but I would be greatly surprised if it wasn’t close to the reverse of the Times’. That’s leaving aside the very large issue of the accuracy and veracity of the news that bloggers do report.

    So when I say blogs are “SO over” (apparently channeling a sixteen-year-old-girl), what I mean is that their over-hyped reputation as competition for traditional news organizations is already waning, and never had any real currency among people who take journalism seriously.

    July 25, 2005
  • Somebody somewhere gets something out of trying to peddle this. It feels…name heavy.

    That’s right: Sloan is peddling EPIC, whatever that turns out to be. For the rest, see my comment downstream.

    July 25, 2005
  • Faced with the loss of print and media news to cull from, would “News-blogging” grow or get whittled down? And would this be a triumph of democracy and anti-corporate control, as that movie seemed to suggest, or would it end up as the same old crap on a different medium?

    I think democracy is based, in part, on informed citizens. We have a First Amendment not because everyone’s precious opinion is worth taking seriously, but because it prevents the government from suppressing news it doesn’t like. If there is no real news reporting, all the gasbaggery in the world isn’t going to support democracy.

    That’s not to say corporate-owned media isn’t a problem. The most troubling thing about big media mergers are that they stifle independent news reporting. But that’s a separate question from the value of “news” churned out by a guy sitting in his basement in Spiderman Underroos, churning out blog entries on the suppression of evidence about UFOs with diplonatic license plates parked on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.

    July 25, 2005
  • I don’t think this Sloan twit was writing science fiction: I think it’s advertising, using the now well-worn trope of “old media is dead.”

    I think it is an unlikely future: as Laurie said above, “Faced with the loss of print and media news to cull from, would ‘News-blogging’ grow or get whittled down?” If there’s no news upon which to blog, how would “news blogging” be different from the guy in Washington Square Park who spends his days hectoring passers-by about the Jewish Plan for Global Domination. (Funniest line ever: two young guys in yarmulkes watch him open-mouthed for a minute, then one turns to the other and says, “Shit! He found out!)

    July 25, 2005
  • Oh yeah, more below.

    July 25, 2005
  • More below, too.

    July 25, 2005
  • I saw this a few months ago, and wasn’t very impressed for the most part. I’ve been making my living in online journalism for well over a decade, and I think the predictions of “old media’s” demise are greatly exaggerated. A few large companies will always control most of what people read and watch and listen to, and the trend lately has been towards bigger and bigger consolidation.

    Back when newspapers were first launching web sites ten years ago, there was a lot of nonsense about the “way new journalism” and how the web would usurp traditional publishers. Has the web changed how people read news? Massively. But the biggest and most popular news sites are still run by CNN, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and so on. Drudge and Wonkette and so on have irreversably changed the terms of the debate, but the debate is still happening on the same turf.

    That said, Google changed journalism with Google News, and the idea that they or someone like them could buy up a traditional media outlet and start doing new and unexpected things is compelling. I can tell you from experience that traditional journalism companies are very conservative. That conservativism is critical, in that when you read a “real” news site you can be relatively certain that the advertisers aren’t influencing the content, that facts and quotations are accurate, and that there are no shady business deals behind the scenes. But that conservativism can hurt and it does leave an opening for an aggressive newcomer to do something interesting.

    If someone had told you five years ago that one of the most widely read news sites on the web would have no human editors, would you have believed them? More like that is on the way. The trouble with predictions like this annoying flash movie is that they’re straight-line extrapolations with little understanding of the real subtleties of publishing and news and online media. So is it ridiculous? Yes. Is the general point wrong? Not at all.

    July 25, 2005
  • Is the general point wrong? Not at all.

    If you take the general point to be that sites like Google News will replace the old media (which is pretty clearly the flash movie’s message), then I think it’s wrong by definition. We keep coming back to the same point: someone has to report the news in the first place, before Google, bloggers, astrologers, whomever can “repurpose” it.

    July 25, 2005
  • Nothing says that advertising can’t also be science fiction. In fact, I believe I recall that one of the stories in the new Year’s Best SF (Dozois edition) was originally written to be used in an advertising campaign.

    July 28, 2005
  • Late to the table.

    I’m not sure what the Flash movie is supposed to be advertising, and I’m not convinced that the message is necessarily that automated news will replace the old media. In fact, you get to the end of the movie, and the projected New Media Order is depicted as a trivial, fluffy, corporate cesspit with no accountability to the public interest. It’s a deliberately alarmist scenario that mixes one part interesting speculation with two parts silly leaps of logic. I don’t really disagree with much of what you’re saying—I do think that in a hundred years we’ll have a news-scape that in some ways is very similar to what we have now and in some ways will be unexpectedly and unpredicably different—but I’m startled that this Flash movie touched such a nerve.

    To disagree with both you and Ken, I think that “old media” (as in big traditional content providers) is doomed unless it starts doing things in vastly different ways. That doesn’t mean they’ll be gone by 2014—it’ll probably take quite a lot longer, though to say they’ll always be around smacks of carelessness—but the channels of transmission are only going to proliferate and in order for the few conglomerates to maintain dominance over them they are going to have to work harder and harder to control the channels. Eventually their going to lose, or evolve into something different from what they are now.

    Now, this is not to say that journalists are going to go extinct. They, as Bob points out, are the factor of this equation that is irreducible. Even if someday the journalists are artificial. 🙂

    July 28, 2005
  • I think that the media will be transformed in unpredictable ways. I think what grates on me about this flash movie is the use of neat visuals to underpin the usual trite “new media” cant.

    For what it’s worth, I think television is a far graver threat to intelligent journalism than Internet meda ever will be. It’s the same kind of threat, though: dumbed-down content appealing to a broader audience.

    July 29, 2005
  • Yeah, if true, that’s a mark against Dozois’ editorial judgment, not an endorsement of advertising. But you’re right, any medium can use SF tropes—whether or not it’s satisfying fiction is another question. In the case of the flash movie, I think not so much.

    July 29, 2005
  • I think what grates on me about this flash movie is the use of neat visuals to underpin the usual trite “new media” cant.

    I guess this is what I don’t understand. Since my perception of the “usual trite ‘new media’ cant” presents the upsetting of traditional media as a good thing, and the Flash movie in the end seems to label this result a bad thing, it seems to me that the whole discussion is disconnected from the movie.

    I think television is a far graver threat to intelligent journalism than Internet meda ever will be.

    Is television a threat to intelligent journalism, or has it already done its worst? It’s had nearly sixty years to work its mojo now.

    July 29, 2005
  • if true, that’s a mark against Dozois’ editorial judgment, not an endorsement of advertising

    I agree it’s not an endorsement of advertising, but Gardner’s editorial judgment can only be decided on the basis of the story itself, not the context in which it appeared.

    July 29, 2005
  • Okay, I watched the movie again (sixteen mnutes of my life I’m not getting back): I guess you’re giving more weight to the section that goes, “For too many EPIC is shallow, sensational, etc…”

    The thing I’m reacting to is the notion that fact-stripping technology will drive the traditional media out of business. As I said, if the new media did manage to drive the old media out, it would be a short-lived victory, since the old media are the ones actually collecting and reporting the news.

    Overall, the movie presents the new media as this unstoppable juggernaut—I think the technology is unstoppable (and I like being able to get out-of-town news sources online), but it seems obviously self-limiting.

    This is completely aside from the trivialization of American news culture overall. When TV journalism began it was really still radio journalism with pictures: telegraphic and mostly straightforward. The majority of TV news is now the “eyewitness” model, where talking heads banter with one another between news clips and offer commentary on the news. (“So sad,” Liz Cho will say, shaking her head after a clip of a DUI accident. Thans, Liz, we thought it was a happy story.) Eyewitness news dates from the 1960s, and really only metastsized in the 1980s.

    Ultimately I think the problem comes down to people choosing entertainment over journalism. I’m not saying every news story has to be about economic development in Latin America—I read a lot of tabloid news myself—but if entertainment is the sole criteria, then the flak-driven, celebrity-heavy “news” will take over the world.

    July 29, 2005
  • PS—And I guess that’s where I part company with the authors of the flash movie: a menu of all desserts gets tiresome, even for consumers with a powerful sweet tooth.

    July 29, 2005
  • I think it depends on how the author wrote the story. “Rock and Roll” is still a great song, even though they use it to sell Cadillacs now. But Led Zeppelin didn’t write it as an advertising jingle, and I think that’s what makes the difference.

    You can’t serve two masters, I think: if you write a story to sell a product, you’re not writing a story to tell a story.

    July 29, 2005
  • I think it depends on the reader’s reaction to the story. If it’s satisfying as a story outside of the advertising context, it’s a good story. The story’s provenance may be distressing, but I don’t see any reason to believe that it’s ipso facto impossible for such a story to be able to stand on its own.

    July 29, 2005
  • Well, I think endings are always important. The ending of a movie, book, short story, whatever, is the piece that either sums up and validates what has come before or casts all the preceding material in a new light that changes its meaning. The flash movie was a beast of the second kind, and leads me to suspect that the movie’s creator doesn’t take his own speculations too seriously. Which makes me not.

    You are entirely right that fact-stripping technology can not put real journalists out of business. There needs to be something substantial to strip facts from or else (as the movie points out) the resulting product is trivial and pointless.

    I still don’t know what the hell the movie is supposed to promote.

    I think your analysis of TV news is right on too. And back to issues of bandwidth, I think the reason TV news is ripest for trivialization is because it has the lowest bandwidth. TV requires you to sit and watch passively while someone talks, perhaps with pretty pictures playing. In the same amount of time, you can actively get a lot more information from a newspaper, magazine, or web site. And if you’re listening to the radio, you can do something else at the same time. TV has to keep your ass in your seat to do its job, so it’s natural that it’s the medium to fall prey most to triviality.

    July 29, 2005
  • Googlezon. That’s not even good science fiction by Japanese monster movie standards.

    July 29, 2005
  • What if the product you’re selling is a novel? I did a little digging and learned that the story we’ve been discussing, “Tourism” by British writer M. John Harrison, was published exclusively at Amazon.com by way of inducing readers to buy his novel Light. So, it’s not exactly what I portrayed it to be, but kind of.

    July 30, 2005
  • I haven’t read the story yet, so I don’t know whether I’ll like it or not (and given my own human weaknesses, it will be much harder to like it knowing its genesis). I think this idea is part of the running conversation you and I are having about creativity, though.

    I think it’s hard, if not impossible, to write good fiction while looking over your shoulder—whether it’s at what’s marketable, or what one’s workshop would like, or one’s friends, or what would or wouldn’t offend one’s family, friends, bosses, ad infinitum. So it seems to me writing a story for any reason other than telling that particular story will diminish the final result. In the hands of a talented writer that might still make for a marketable, even entertaining story.

    There are a lot of clever television commercials that are entertaining (and incidentally reach a much greater audience than any SF story ever will). Not every work of art has to be Ulysses, but I think we have to draw a line in the sand somewhere. Fiction as advertising seems to me to be on the wrong side of that line.

    July 31, 2005
  • and given my own human weaknesses, it will be much harder to like it knowing its genesis

    But you don’t know its genesis. You know where the story appeared and in what context, but you don’t know why M. John Harrison wrote it. You don’t know if it was written specifically for Amazon, if it was just one of those worthwhile trunk stories that never managed to find an appropriate home, or even if it was freshly written and happened to fit the bill at whatever time the Amazon deal was struck.

    Look, all fiction is a balance between the artistic and the commercial (lame wordplay intended). We’d like to think that artistic considerations are the only considerations, but that’s just not true. If you’re writing for an audience, commercial considerations have to enter into the equation somewhere. And all fiction, like it or not, is a commercial in one way or another. It’s a commercial for you as a writer, an advertisement to editors and readers alike that you exist and have something worth saying, and if you like this sample there may be more to be had, in the library or in the bookstore or at your agent’s email address or somewhere years down the road. All that M. John Harrison has done [imho, and not yet having read the story] is peeled away the layer of abstraction covering the commercial purpose of fiction, and while that may be as disconcerting at seeing pictures of someone’s brain surgery, it’s doesn’t invalidate the creative expression.

    I don’t think it’s helpful to force fiction-writing into the mold of a purer act than it is. If you’re not looking over your shoulder at the audience to some extent, then you’re not communicating with your fiction.

    July 31, 2005
  • Very often blogging (posting/commenting/responding to comments) feels like pushing steak through a straw: it takes a lot of effort to get very little meat across.

    I think your bandwidth hierarchy is very interesting, and valid as far as it goes. The thing that it doesn’t take into account is that the audience allowable by a given communication mode is sort of roughly inversely proportional to the bandwidth. A blog may be a very narrow bandwidth as far as pushing information through is concerned, but a hell of a lot more people can get in on the discussion that could sitting around a table in a bar. You can also weigh your words more carefully when writing and construct a stronger argument. Another of the strengths of asynchronous discussion—there’s not nearly as much pressure to come up with the perfect comeback on the spot. The oh-shit-I-wish-I’d-said-x syndrome.

    I get a little dubious, also, when we use the excuse that tone doesn’t come through in blog postings or email. If that’s true, then it’s just because we’re being rushed and careless writers. Otherwise, why in the world would tone, voice, and diction be so important in that most revered of all low-bandwidth communications medium: prose?

    July 31, 2005

Leave a Comment


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Copyright © Robert J. Howe