Notes on the creation of a new media landscape

You Say You Want a Revolution?

with 7 comments

This is how it starts.

Last week, 15 prominent German bloggers issued an “Internet Manifesto,” which got the Web so atwitter the Manifesto’s servers went down. Within the day, the statement was back up, this time translated into 13 languages.

For the most part, the Manifesto was pretty tame, not at all inflammatory, except when compared to the counter-revolutionary (royal, you might say) statement issued a couple of months before and endorsed by most of Europe’s most prominent publishers. The so-called “Hamburg Declaration” began with an accusation of theft:

Numerous providers are using the work of authors, publishers and broadcasters without paying for it …For this reason, we advocate strongly urgent improvements in the protection of intellectual property on the Internet.

In response, the Manifesto, while upholding the sanctity of copyright, asserted the responsibility that content creators have to encourage free and robust civic discourse. Even though its 17 principles were for the most part simple statements of fact (e.g., “#1: The Internet Is Different”), the Manifesto was taken to be a kind of declaration of independence for the new world of digital media.

The media must adapt their work methods to today’s technological reality instead of ignoring or challenging it. It is their duty to develop the best possible form of journalism based on the available technology.

Consider that statement for a moment: Adapting to reality is a media company’s duty. Well, yes—a duty to shareholders if no one else, and a supremely moderate position.
So was this: People should have a say in governing themselves. We know how that story ends.

In truth, we know how this one ends as well, or should. Media companies need to start actually adapting to—and embracing—the capabilities of the Internet, instead of punting, pretending and trying to protect themselves from it.

At the same time, both media companies and digital Jacobins need to stop trying to confuse what news-aggregation sites do with peer-to-peer-sharing, a/k/a piracy, so that authors, journalists and other content creators can continue to rely on being paid for the labors of their lives’ work.

Both the royalists and the Jacobins are demagoguing the issue of Internet freedom, but why should these journalistic precincts be immune from that sort of thing? If it’s good enough for Keith Olbermann and Glenn Beck….

TIME’s story on Beck by David von Drehle this week may be more even-handed than some might wish (see the flaming tweets of NYU’s Jay Rosen (@jayrosen_nyu) on Twitter, for example), but no one could argue with Von Drehle’s statement about America in 2009:

Trust is a toxic asset, sitting valueless on the national books. Good faith is trading at pennies on the dollar.

You cannot blame this fact on the Internet, as much of an enabler as it may be of loose talk and partisan screaming. When I was the editor of TIME, 15 years ago—when the world was still using 56k modems—Kurt Andersen did a cover story on Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern. The cover showed them both shouting into a microphone, and the headline was “Voice of America”.

The Web did not do this to civic discourse. We did it to ourselves.
Next week: The need for a new public square

Jim Gaines
Twitter: @jamesrgaines


7 Responses

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  1. agreed: much of the blather about “charging for content” ignores the larger story, which is the unwillingness (inability?) of media outlets to adapt to the internet and to embrace its possibilities.

    similarly, much of the blather about “the future of journalism” ignores the larger story: everyone’s a journalist now. Some get paid to do it, most don’t. Some who get paid engage no one, and some who do it for free engage millions. Don’t hide from it. Embrace it.

    Recovering Journalist

    September 18, 2009 at 6:04 pm

  2. On Von Drehle’s piece, do you really see nothing wrong with his opening paragraph, upon which Rosen’s critique largely focused?

    One may argue that Rosen’s condemnation is overwrought, but dismiss it as a gripe with “even-handedness” is to erect a straw man. Even if unwittingly so, Von Drehle’s bungling of the crowd estimates gave a perfect example of how triangulation, when clumsily implemented, can obscure truth.

    Even Achenbach has now acknowledged on his blog that DVD’s opening was problematic, albeit half-heartedly.. Rosen really did have a legitimate beef there.

    Jay Smooth

    September 19, 2009 at 5:15 pm

  3. I interpreted his beef as about a lot more than the crowd estimate number, and in particular about getting the high-end conservative estimate wrong. That was in fact just plain wrong, a mistake, not an error of triangulation, not to mention evidence that triangulation is itself a bad practice. DVD was making a larger point, and I find the focus on that particular number when talking about what was essentially a think piece…odd. Suspiciously odd, which is why I took it to be primarily an attack on balance, or “objectivity”, and from Rosen’s responses it seems to me I may be right about that. He broke off the discussion, so I can’t be sure.

    Jim Gaines

    September 20, 2009 at 12:53 pm

  4. in response to “recovering journalist” … your post…

    similarly, much of the blather about “the future of journalism” ignores the larger story: everyone’s a journalist now. Some get paid to do it, most don’t. Some who get paid engage no one, and some who do it for free engage millions. Don’t hide from it. Embrace it.

    you’re right. some who get paid engage no one. and some who do it for free engage millions.

    but you’re incorrect that everyone is a journalist. there are a lot of people who think they are journalists, but are really just aggregrators of information or repeat information in some other way.

    ultimately that’s all journalism is, but the way a real journalist goes about their craft is different from someone with a PC and a topic they are passionate about.

    a real journalist understands both the business and ethical aspects of journalism.

    so, in short, everyone is not a journalist. they just think they are.

    Jacob Repko

    October 3, 2009 at 3:11 am

  5. on another topic.

    i think what FLYP medida is doing is fabulous and you can read more about that here…

    Jacob Repko

    October 3, 2009 at 3:13 am

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