Ushering In A Media Mobocracy

A newspaper editor, who was interviewing me for a reporter’s position, declared, as a prelude to a discussion on salary, “Let’s face it. You’re not here because of the money. You’re here because you love the job.”

Those who choose journalism don’t do so for its promise of sacks of gold bullion. They’re in it for other, less tangible gains.

It could be for the chance to topple a corrupt elected official. Or, to hover very close to the yellow police line, flashing a laminated press badge. Or, to be on the phone for the better part of the day. Or, to see one’s byline.

Who knows what makes one tick? But you’ll almost never hear that it’s ample monetary rewards that draw so many to it. That philosophy deserves plaudits. Were cash to be one’s sole motivation to do anything in life, then that person is better off being a soulless, truculent mercenary.

Driving this enterprise, I believe, is a sense of idealism, a quest to seek the “truth,” regardless of where it may lead one.

In an age, however, where, in theory, anyone with a laptop, Internet access, a Flip camera, a cellphone, and a self-publishing platform, is free to co-opt the label of a “journalist” without any hassle, the trade faces an existential crisis.

The situation is eerily comparable to one where all and sundry can easily slip into a surgeon’s scrub, happily trot into an operating room, fashionably wield a scalpel, and begin a clinical procedure on an unsuspecting patient.

Unlike in medicine, where an amateur is likely to kill someone under the knife, literally, the greenhorns in this line of work kill no one, but the profession itself.

While I’m an indefatigable champion of an Internet-enabled lifestyle—that enables one to shop, buy, bank, play, date, trade, read, network, from one’s keyboard—I can’t help but deplore its role in democratizing the media to the extent that it has, and subjected it to the market dynamics.

Wait. It’s hardly “democratization.” A place where everyone rules is a mobocracy, a perverted form of democracy, wrote Aristotle.

“When news is search-driven, audience-targeted, and everywhere, what’s a story worth,” investigates Andrew Rice in the New York Times piece, “Putting a Price on Words.”

Information—though not necessarily genuine “news”—is a cheap commodity that’s now easily available everywhere from the Associated Press, the Pulitzer Prize-winning global news-gathering organization to the Associated Content (a content farm, powered by 300,000 contributors, which touts itself as “The People’s Media Company.”)

And because it’s not in the least, in short supply, and advertising space is infinite, online advertisements sell at rates that are a tiny fraction of those for print.

In consequence, advertisers who accounted for a robust stream of revenues for the newspaper industry—as much as 80 percent as a rule of thumb—moved to greener online pastures where they’re spending less to reach a more targeted audience.

While the economics of the Internet has been a boom to advertisers, it’s been a bane to those in the newspaper business.

In the absence of an adequate supply of the oxygen of advertising revenue, several long-standing dailies have closed with a loud gasp. Scores have been dislodged from a salaried way of living.

Venerable national publications have altogether put a moratorium on hiring.

The plethora of community papers that pepper the suburban landscape still do have open slots, but for rookies who’ll sell their labor for an absurdly small remuneration or in exchange for college credits.

Into the shoes of the displaced editors, reporters, and proofreaders have stepped in battalions of “citizen journalists,” who’re mostly narcissistic boneheads, gung-ho about exclamation points, and committed to orchestrating linguistic nihilism.

In the drastically altered media climate, it’s not just enough to love writing, but to think like an entrepreneur and come up with ideas to valuate it monetarily—not editorially—and by extension, devise a sustainable journalistic business model that will hold.

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