Monday, 10 December 2007

Riffers and Readers

I have only just got round to reading the comments of Bill Keller (the editor of the NYT, mother paper of the International Herald Tribune) speaking in London at the beginning of the month, or was it the end of November?

NB I'm unreliable.

According to which I came to via
"he condemned the “unreliable” information readers are assaulted by through a blitz of blogs, Google News, RSS feeds, social networks and video sharing sites.

He urged the audience of journalists to keep faith in the newsgathering cornerstone of accuracy over speed,
The Guardian reports, adding: “Google News and Wikipedia don’t have bureaus in Baghdad, or anywhere else. With a few exceptions, they do not - in the cold terminology of the 21st century media business - ‘create content’. Wikipedia and Google aggregate information from, well, from us. From the Times, from the Guardian, and from a lot of less dependable sources....Most of the blog world does not even attempt to report. It recycles. It riffs on the news. That’s not bad. It’s just not enough. Not nearly enough.”

NB Hence, I riff unreliably off the unreliable riffing off the unreliable riffing off the reliable, assuming that the reliable (in this case The Guardian) is reliable. Which no one any longer is sure it is.

Now we've got my journalistic credentials cleared up, here's what a couple of 'readers' of the unreliable riffers at thought of Mr. Keller's comments.

Eric McClure:
Does Bill Keller mean “unreliable” reporting like that of The Times’ Judith Miller on Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction, or the paper’s coverage of American scientist Wen Ho Lee, or the Duke rape case, or the controversial Atlantic Yards development in Brooklyn?
He ought to get his own house in order before he starts worrying and opining about other outlets being “unreliable.” It’s just this kind of unjustified arrogance that continues to get The Times in trouble.

Mick McAllister
When the free press was indeed free and took its role as a source of information seriously, the credibility of Google or Wikipedia would be fair game. But the fact is, every major American newspaper manipulates the news for the convenience of corporate totalitarianism.
If a whore says your wife is sleeping around, consider the source.

MSM is indeed obsessed by the blitz of blogs, Google News, RSS feeds, social networks and video sharing sites etc and their reliability, but what they don't yet get is that it's actually not about the riffers; it's about the readers, stupid.

You can call blogs and alternative media unreliable until you are blue in the face, but if enough people are reading it, whom an advertiser wants to talk to, then it's really conversation over.

The central premise of the MSM happy future is that people want reliable, filtered information.

The problem is that the new generations of consumers actually don't want reliable, filtered information; they want fun, fast and free information. Public intellectualism is dieing, if not dead.

By that I mean the importance people attach to being seen by their contemporaries as widely and intelligently informed about domestic and world news, analysis and opinion just isn't what is was. That's a shame, but it's a reality.

MSM would like this little problem to go away, or be altered by enough earnest speeches by men born and bred on newspaper values, hoping that this preaching will somehow filter down to the new consumer.

I wish it would because I was bred, if not born, on newspaper values since joining Het Finacieele Dagblad in the early 1990s. I want reliable, filtered information. I want the IHT to go on for ever, basically pretty much as it is now.

But fun, fast and free it ain't. Or not fun, fast and free enough.

If I was running a MSM organisation that's what I would be telling my troops: make it more fun, make it faster and make it more widely free. Oh, and try make some money too.

The blogosphere has evolved not because of the failings of MSM, but because the fewer and fewer people out there who do attach an importance to being well-informed became isolated in their traditional public spaces and meeting points - like bars, office canteens, friends' dinner tables to name but a few. When the technology came along to meet like-minded souls they jumped online to find other engaged people.

The good news is that there are lots of them out there, but once they got out of their traditional boxes with its newsprint lining, they saw a whole new world. And that world, well, it was fun, fast and free.

People wanted a sense of community they could not find in traditional public spaces and simply sharing the same local newspaper as others in their community, especially if the quality newspaper was a monopoly, did not give them a sufficient sense of community to paper over the cracks in their physical community meeting points.

This is a problem for everyone: it's a very big problem for the IHT who have never had a solid domestic, let alone city, base.

There are solutions for the IHT, but my ideas would be unreliable, so I'll keep them to myself, at least for now.

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