Us and Them
An interesting piece today by Sherrie Gossett on Media Monitor titled "Newspapers Losing Advertising and Readers." Gossett writes about the pressure that blogs and citizen journalism (particularly online writing dedicated to local politics and issues) are putting on newspapers and inevitably their ad revenue. But in passing she makes the remark that bloggers and citizen journalists are just as skeptical about "being drawn into a partnership with establishment media" as the establishment is about them. That's true enough, but the point misses and uncomplicates the basic motivation that has driven so many people to writing on the Web once the technology made it doable. No better example can be found than today's outpouring of reports, thoughts, and photographs covering today's terrible events in London.
This writing is patterned on the reportage of establishment media, but it adds the vast call of voices everywhere present today: the "there there" of the firefly e-feelings noted in Leon Sterling's thoughts on New West and responded to in part by Nick Gould's CoFactors blog yesterday. Establishment media can't possibly compete with this immense outpouring of observations, reportage, mere witness (and images, too. A New York Times article that's just gone online discusses the instant uploading of images when the terrorist attacks took place. Dan Gillmor is quoted, saying: ""A lot of what's being done by the citizen-journalist will be most useful as people start pulling together the best images and stories," he said. "There was a cliché that journalists write the first draft of history. Now I think these people are writing the first draft of history at some level, and that's an important shift.") This crucible of expression instantly goes beyond skepticism and antagonism to the ecological fact of the writing and mediacasting phenomenon that isn't going away.
In the ecology of journalism, an "us" and "them" approach to "citizen" writing and old media is, as I've just suggested, already beyond the point. Consumers turn to every source for news and commentary. The web of human response, in all its richness, is expanding explosively, and the self-limiting boundaries of the press will inevitably be forced to become moe porous. They are already. (What happens to the general reader's threshhold for accuracy is a concern too early to answer empirically.)
But as today's tragedy in London shows again, participatory content is established alongside the old establishment. Readers increasingly care less about the branding of experience than the whole expression of experience.