Sunday, December 31, 2006

TIME Passes The Torch

Denis McGrath's great year end review and the fact that he and I and virtually everyone reading this post has been elected TIME magazine's "Person of the Year" got me thinking about the blogosphere, what that award actually means and more importantly what we do in the coming year with this newish arrow in our creative quivers.

My first reaction was pretty much like David Letterman's, "We got an award for looking at Porn!?!" But I logged on to TIME (having not bought the magazine in years on the basis of its growing irrelevance to my life and the massive over insertion of subscription cards) and read the article.

For once, I think TIME got it right.

Letterman wasn't the first to make fun of TIME's choice. Most "serious" news sources had already had a field day with it, naming their own far more deserving "Persons". It should be noted that TIME's "Man of the Year" which evolved into their "Person of the Year" has been relied on by most news organizations as substantial filler and fodder for comment during the notoriously dead holiday season.

And no wonder they were upset. These are the same guys who make a point of ridiculing almost any story that breaks first on the internet, or somehow otherwise usurps their perceived position as the media of record and the moral high ground they hold as members of the Fourth Estate (or Fifth Estate if you're a Journalist on the super moral high ground that is the CBC).

They trumpet the discovery of pedophiles on MySpace, after doing a fairly horrendous job for decades of rooting out the same activity in the Church basements of the world. They poo-pooh Wikipedia because it's "notoriously unreliable" and dismiss most of the blog world that competes with their own corporate bloggers because "Any idiot can start a blog".

Well any idiot can start a newspaper or broadcast network too. You just need to be a wealthier one. And it apparently doesn't hurt to have the lack of scruples of Rupert Murdoch (FOXNews, The OJ Book), Conrad Black (Read any Business Page) and Robert Maxwell. Maxwell isn't with us anymore, having taken a nude moonlight swim from his yacht mid-Atlantic shortly before he was to be charged with a War crime.

And let's face it, most news organizations aren't all that reliable either. Many simply regurgitate press releases or follow what everybody else seems to be doing. Funny how people notice that every gas station has the same price, but hardly anybody picks up that the top stories are the same virtually everywhere.

A website called Project Censored Media has for years compiled an annual list of the most under reported stories of any year. Also a great source for story ideas if you're interested. Likewise, the Center for Media and Democracy annually recognizes "polluters of the information environment". This year's winners were ABC for its "Path to 9/11" mini-series which used the 5th anniversary of 9/11 to rewrite history with a script said to be based on the official 9/11 Commission report, but which "included fabrications that are directly contradicted by the report."

Taking runner-up spot was the National Association of Broadcast Communicators for many TV stations' undisclosed use of public relations videos -- or video news releases -- as real news. The version we get in Canada is known as "Canada AM".

In a related story closer to home, Toronto Star columnist Antonia Zerbisias noted that the Broadcaster briefs recently submitted to the CRTC received significant coverage in virtually every Canadian media outlet, while contradicting information filed by craft guilds, broadcast watchdogs and others was barely reported, even by her own newspaper.

Gee, that wouldn't have anything to do with most of these media outlets being part of conglomerates that include one of the TV networks seeking redress, would it?

A British playwright who's name escapes me was once asked how he dealt with bad reviews. He answered, "I don't believe what they write on the front page. Why should I care what's in the entertainment section."

He was right. None of these news guys have much use for us and what we do in our online communities -- or our real lives for that matter. Just prior to the arrival of Web 2.0, Seagate CEO Bill Watkins said, "Let's face it. We're not changing the world. We're building a product that helps people buy more crap -- and watch porn."

But Mr. Watkins is wrong. Newspapers are scrambling to stay alive against the onslaught of the web's immediacy and ease of access. TV ratings tell us about 10% of their audience finds something better to do each year. And the rush of Ad revenue to the Internet indicates clearly where more and more people are going for most if not all of their news and information.

It's going to be interesting to see what we who blog will do with this growing audience. Few of us are trained in journalistic ethics and don't have the multiple contacts to fully verify or exhibit a "fair and balanced" view of what we post here. We just write from the heart and from our own experience. I'm not so sure that's a bad thing.

And that's why TIME had it right. They know their time (no pun intended) and the era of all big media is almost up. The current method of relaying information while creating public opinion hasn't got much future. The interconnected corporate world that now owns virtually all traditional media needs to spin any truth they tell. They simply have no choice if the revenue streams they're pushing are going to keep flowing. Whether that spin is to protect or promote the other tentacles of their organism, it can't help but shade the story. As one showbiz exec once explained to me at a sales market, "Nobody lies in this business. They tell you the truth they need you to believe."

We're in a time when we need to fall back on our own intelligence and experience as well as the intelligence and experience of others who have nothing to gain by what they write and everything to gain from a level playing field. (Okay maybe I'm up to $1.70 in my Adsense account but trust me, it takes more than a large double-double to sway my loyalties.)

TIME has officially passed the torch to us. I intend to use 2007 to light things up.

And Happy New Year! I think the coming one is going to be fun.


Caroline said...

Jim, you're doing great work here on the blog. It is appreciated.

Happy 2007 to us all ... let's hope you're right in your predictions :-)

Webs said...

Thing is, it's still Big Media that goes out and gets the stories that repeat ad nauseum in markets as papers and broadcast rely on newswires.

Blogs have a place, but I can count on one hand the non-media bloggers that do original reporting, versus editorializing.