How Many Clicks Will This Post Get?
It’s finally dawning on everybody what happens when newsrooms and editorial staffs shrink to fewer people than you’ll find servicing mufflers at your local Maaco dealer.
Gloom, pessimism and ineptitude… in spades.
Talented people leave the business. Young talented people don’t go into it.
Day to day, the unpleasantness is palpable. Stories of import get routinely overlooked, or dropped for space or time, or in some cases, bumped for more advertiser-friendly gruel. [SIGNUP]
With little in the way of infrastructure or dependable double-check backup systems, whispered and unsubstantiated rumors crawl their way into print and half-cooked stories that need revision see daylight—because, seriously, dude, who’s got time to think about rewrites when there’s a blog post to write?
“We need to do more with less,” media owners and suited-up hired guns continue to repeat like a mantra in futile attempts to rally beleaguered troops.
Silly, since it was two years ago now, a lifetime given the warp speed information moves in this broken media age, that David Simon, news guy turned worshipped HBO storyteller, wrote an episode titled “More With Less” for The Wire just to make fun of the semi-fictional bosses at the semi-fictional Baltimore Sun because they uttered those semi-fictional words.
“You do less with less,” Simon answered grumpily when asked about the title of the episode.
If there’s any good news to report about how the media is veering in the direction of the same junk depot that houses 8-tracks and brief periods of idealism, it’s this: we may have reached a tipping point.
The recent metaphorical lynching of Shirley Sherrod, an act of epic stupidity and callousness that will take us years to fully process (Her. Father. Was. Murdered. By. The. Klan.), forces us, like it or not, to think seriously about the state of our country’s news and writing organizations.
In a fair world, any collective rethink of the role of the media would result in demanding that we first reinstitute and/or bolster key journalistic precepts: fact checking, copy-editing and smart story selection.
Walter Shapiro, senior correspondent for a website called Politics Daily, says the media has become a game of the person who “dies with the most clicks win.”
This week, Shapiro began urging a “Slow-News Movement”—suggesting we take things easier; that we take time to think and process what we learn before posting or printing.
Seriously, what’s that guy smoking?
“With the news media in the midst of a wrenching transition,” Shapiro writes, “there have to be protected spaces somewhere—whether on the Internet or on cable TV—for millions of citizens to savor and contemplate the news… ”
This is, of course, a perfectly grown up suggestion: thoughtful, measured, and mature. And that’s exactly the problem. Who’s going to fund a cable network or Internet site built for a demographic that wants to “savor and contemplate” the news?
Isn’t that why God made Jim Lehrer?
Assessing the responsibility of the media is really complicated stuff, made harder by the fact that few media outlets see their mission in the same way.
For things to grow saner, everyone’s going to have to reevaluate their role, their resources and their viability independently.
It won’t be easy. People naturally attracted to the media are competitive by nature.
Shapiro’s right: it has become a case of the person with the most clicks wins. And winning is intoxicating.
Speaking of, look around this site.
This post is competing against Hughe Dillon’s pictures at Delilah’s and “Main Line Moms Gone Wild.”
You think I’m going to get my share of hits waxing about the future of journalism when just two clicks away Big Daddy Graham’s ranting about why he’s mad at Eminem?
Somebody. Please. Get me rewrite.
Tim Whitaker (email@example.com), a writer and editor, is the executive director of Mighty Writers.