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I’ve had this in the queue for a while; it’s a bit dated, but here it is anyway. I hope you are edified by it; as with virtually every article about the ongoing slow suicide of the modern media establishment, I suspect that nobody who’s primed and tooled up to actually make the desperately necessary changes will ever see it, but I’ve got to do my bit to try keeping that pressure on regardless. I’m just trying to plant seeds, as it were.
Back in March, Clay Shirky wrote:
One of the people I was hanging around with online back then was Gordy Thompson, who managed internet services at the New York Times. I remember Thompson saying something to the effect of “When a 14 year old kid can blow up your business in his spare time, not because he hates you but because he loves you, then you got a problem.” I think about that conversation a lot these days.
This came back to me when I was reading this article in the Washington Post in which some damp rag of a copywriter is upset to find out that his sneering little human-interest piece was being quoted all over the place, most prominently by Gawker, who he later called up to ask how much effort their little ad-farming exercise actually took:
“After all the reporting, it took me about a day to write the 1,500-word piece. How long did it take Gawker to rewrite and republish it, cherry-pick the funniest quotes, sell ads against it and ultimately reap 9,500 (and counting) page views? I called up Hamilton Nolan, the Gawker writer to whom I had been so grateful. “Probably took me,” he said, “you know . . . a half-hour to an hour.”
His reaction is one that’s distressingly common these days. It’s always the same: this is everyone’s fault but mine, and there should be a bunch of new laws because it’s not fair. It’s become inescapable, this position. It’s the yin to Mike Godwin’s yang; instead of calling somebody a Nazi, he’s saying the world just isn’t jackbooted enough. We need tougher, more stringent laws, or jobs like the one his vacuous prose is rapidly making irrelevant anyway might, swoon, no longer exist. Near the end he nods briefly in the direction of the freight train bearing down on his industry, saying “the popular saying in the industry now is that it’s important to “save journalism” – not necessarily newspapers. I agree, but newspapers are still the most common organizations that pay a large staff of reporters, providing them with a living wage, health care and a retirement plan”, but concludes without the faintest implication that he is anything other than blameless and powerless in all of this, tied to the tracks by some cackling, mustachioed villain with “internet” written on his top hat.
But to be blunt, sir, this is what you deserve for writing things that can be summed up entirely with a few excerpts and a dollop of snark, without the slightest loss of context or significance. And if you had an editor worth a fifth of the title they’d have handed that article back to you and told you to you cut it down to its proper size.
Look, if you want to save journalism, if you want to be a journalist, you need to actually perform the act of journalism. The kind of writing that we desperately need, that we may be well-informed and responsible citizens, not these bullshit celebrity-noise puff pieces. Leave that crap to transient rags like Gawker; it’s their métier, says so right there on the label, and shouldn’t be yours. Go find something out, something important, and tell us. It might be complicated, it might need to be explained at length, contextualized and clarified, sure. It might be difficult, but worthwhile things usually are. You’ll know success when you see it, when you can’t suck the marrow out of it in three lines and people all over the world are telling their audience to come to your site.
The solution to your problem isn’t tougher laws or bizarre DRM technologies: it’s for you to actually provide the public with real, valuable information. With journalism, in short. So be journalist, please. Seek out the truth and bear witness for all of us, because we have never needed it more. Give us stories that are important and relevant and alive, stories with meat on them, with teeth. I promise you: the results will look a lot like what you’ve already seen, blogs and news aggregators the world over will hoist two or three of the better paragraphs out and summarize the rest, but with a critically different bit at the end, an exhortation to get over to your site, because a terse summary isn’t enough to convey what you’ve found. The world will be saying, “read the whole thing.”