Will work for free WIFI: The New Journalism?

Scott Karp has a nice post today about the intersection of journalism and blogging.    I’m glad he notes the weakness of the argument that bloggers cannot be journalists.   Suggesting mainstream journalism is on firm and high ground is especially absurd in this world where yellow journalism generally trumps quality, superficial treatments cripple even the few fine writers at major newspapers, and Fox and CNN TV news parade AnchorModels chosen primarily for looks (women) or bombastic nonsense (men) or both (Anne Coulter).

I’d suggest that a key challenge to conventional journalism is not so much one of quality writing as it is *scalability*. Bloggers work for nothing or peanuts, and there are many more coming in the wings.  Most blogs will continue to suck, but some will be great and this number will increase as more writers get comfortable with the medium.

It will be increasingly difficult for publishers – even cutting edge, well funded ones like Nick at Gawker who is hiring a “journalist” –  to justify paying much for content. I don’t think Gawker’s decision to hire a legacy media journalist reflects a new trend, rather it reflects a fairly atypical reversion to old trends during this transition period.   

Contrast Gawker’s success with the demise of Blognation, which was not even paying people.  Would they have succeeded with a bunch of “real” journalists? No, of course not.    Good writing is cheap and getting cheaper.   That’s not necessarily a good thing, but it’s certainly an inevitable thing.

More about Privacy, Free Speech, and the oxymoron known as Fox “News”.

More about Privacy, Free Speech, and the oxymoron known as Fox “News”.

I’ve been surprised by how complacent the Religious right has been about online porn, so maybe the battle over censoring porn won’t be coming soon, though I think this DOJ action is the shot over the bow by GW, Gonzales et al.

I’m hoping the online community handles self-censorship better than the movie industry or, far worse, video game industry. I’m not optimistic about it though and expect a lot of chest thumping in the near future as people line up to be for/against “porn”/”free speech” depending on their points of view.

I think there are several interesting forces involved in the coming privacy debate war:

First is the basic freedom of speech, which we value highly in America but pretend to value more than we actually do. Money talks loudly in America as the recent D.C. lobby scandals and huge money politics make clear. Simply prohibiting paid speech obviously won’t work, but money threatens the quality of free speech more than any other factor and far more than any Govt in this country ever will.

Another force at play is the battle between right wing and left wing ideologues. Called the “culture wars” by the conservatives, both right and left claim the high ground on freedom issues and speak mostly to those who can’t think for themselves. Meanwhile the polarization dumbs down many of the issues to a state of irrelevance.

Always ironic is how quickly those of any political persuasion are to “shout down” or even violently repress competing speech. We’ve got right wing entertainer-zealots like Anne Coulter [updated scandalous comments on Donny Deutsch Show] and Sean Hannity dispicably making the case that many forms of criticism of the Govt are “treason”, while their left wing counterparts like Michael Moore pander propagandistic nonsense to the gullible. Both deflect from the spirited and intelligent debates we should be having about many polarizing issues like Iraq, massive Govt overspending, and helping save the developing world from itself.

Other challenges to the quality of free speech in America are the rise of the right-wing commercial propaganda arm of the Govt (aka “Fox News”) and the administration’s policy of reporter “embedding” which has cleverly created a system where reporters will tend to report favorably on the American war effort without any censorship at all. You are hardly going to be overly critical of the guys who are protecting you from untimely death. (yes, this is a simplification – a strong counter-argument is the world class reporting of formerly embedded Kevin Sites).

Although it used to be true that there were more “liberals” than “conservatives” in the media they were far, far, far more objective than the media stars of today who are entertainers before patriots and patriots before journalists. It also appears to me FOX may have reversed the trend leading to a net “conservative” voice in overall American journalism, but more importantly has taken greater strides than any liberal ever dreamed in morphing “journalistic objectivity” into “my country, right or wrong”.

Another significant force in play in the privacy debate is the fact few mainstream folks understand how the internet works and how sophisticated an average 15 year old is about finding online material. If every teacher and mother of a teen in America did a handful of image searches for highly objectionable porn terms you’d see a groundswell of new legislation, but few teachers and even fewer parents have any sense of what’s up online.

It won’t be pretty but it sure will be interesting…