Notes on the creation of a new media landscape

Posts Tagged ‘Media Evolution

Losing the Me in Multimedia

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There has been a lot of loose talk lately from certain “legacy”—a/k/a old—media outlets about how bloggers and online aggregators are “stealing” their content. Some of it is just eyeball envy, and some seems to be jealousy of a deeper sort—a sense of waning cool, a lack of buzz supply.

Certain virtues just don’t come naturally to people in our line of work, and the greatest of these is charity.

That’s going to have to change. For journalists of all ages, making the transition from old to new media means crossing a theoretically impossible leopard with the improbable old dog, changing spots and learning new tricks. In plain English, we have to learn not just new skills but new virtues as well.

Number one is humility. Without it, as a profession, we will still be shouting from the mountaintop, and there has been quite enough of that. Even more painfully, we have to get over our great big individual selves. I know this from experience: It hurts not being “somebody” anymore.

When I was the editor of Time, I got to interview Castro, Mandela, Rafsanjani—the Dalai Lama! A few weeks ago, the assistant to somebody nobody ever heard of yelled at me for calling back to ask about an interview. She didn’t even bother calling later to say no.

Back in the day, I could order up a story anywhere in the world, just by calling my assistant and saying something like, “Get me Istanbul.” Now, I’m lucky if I have time to call out for a sandwich at lunchtime. There is no assistant, not to mention anyone who would answer to the name “Istanbul”.

When I first got to FLYP the person who started it, Alan Stoga—a very smart guy, but somebody who had never even been a journalist, for god’s sake—told me my sentences were too long. My first thought, of course, was, “Who was HE to be editing ME!” But I looked again, and it was true. Finely wrought doesn’t work online. Plain speaking does. Whoever thought that would be the wave of the future!

As good and resourceful as I think I am, I’ve had to get used to the fact that there is a lot I just don’t know. I don’t know how to shoot video, not to mention how to edit, export or integrate it. I can’t animate an information graphic, or design a simple popup, slider or second-floor.

At FLYP now I’m called the editor-in-chief, but in story meetings, I’m one of a team, which includes an animator-in-chief, a videographer-in-chief, a designer-in-chief, a researcher-in-chief, a programmer/integrator-in-chief and a reporter-in-chief.

The best meeting we have is after we publish, when we all get to play user-in-chief. This purpose of this meeting is to ruthlessly criticize each other (the aforementioned founder-in-chief is especially good at this) for having screwed up the experience of a story for the most important team member of all, the you-in-chief.

And I’ve never enjoyed a job more, nor felt more intimately engaged with the reason I got into journalism in the first place, which was to tell stories.

The second critical virtue is brevity, but I’m out of space. Blogs are supposed to be 500 words max, I’m told, and I’m already over that.

This reminds me of Humility, Subpart A: The thing to be afraid of isn’t failure. It’s regret for failing to try something new.

Jim Gaines
Editor-in-Chief, FLYP


Written by Jim Gaines

August 5, 2009 at 3:04 pm

Eyes Wide Shut

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Picture yourself on a two-lane road in a car that’s headed for an accident. A semi appears out of nowhere, forcing you to swerve into an embankment. As your bumper hits the grade and your car starts to turn over, you reflexively reach for the roof of the car to brace yourself, and time slows almost to a stop.

Here’s a thought experiment: Imagine, at that moment, trying to think of something else.

The YOU in this little vignette is what is derisively known as “old media” or “print.” That semi is the world—the global economy, a new matrix of communications technologies, changing consumer attitudes, and new ways of learning and knowing things.

The embankment is not your fault: It’s just a big pile of lousy facts—the high cost of paper, ink, and distribution.

“You” are actually a perfectly good person, exemplary even: You work hard to tell the truth, to hold public officials accountable, to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable,” etc. You weren’t doing anything wrong, like driving drunk, or speeding, or texting with both hands.

Still, some people in the crowd that has gathered for this crash like to say it was your fault: You were arrogant, monopolistic, thoughtless, blind!

This is nonsense , like blaming slow horses for the advent of cars.

It’s not arrogance: You are just transfixed by the prospect of death, as anyone in your position would be.

Some of us have one foot in the semi and one in your car, which is, among other things, awkward.

I left Time Inc. after twenty years to write books and consult. Now I’m at an online magazine called FLYP. If you came to our office you’d know me right away: I am the old guy working hard to learn everything, from everyone. I was lucky to leave print when I did, but I take no pleasure in watching the fall of “dead tree” media.

I feel bad for you. You didn’t do anything wrong. You were great. And to watch you stare at death, unable to see your way up and over to storytelling heaven, where paper, ink and distribution are free, is in fact exquisitely painful.

The road there is plainly marked, but you wouldn’t be able to find it with a map and a compass and a tour guide. In the crisis of this moment, you can’t see anything but that terrible fate growing larger in the windshield.

Below are links to a couple more perspectives on this subject. Let me know your thoughts and ideas.

FishbowlNY: Trying to Find a Business Model That Works Free Online Content? Steve Brill’s “Definition of Stupidity”

Twitter: @jamesrgaines

Jim Gaines
Editor-in-Chief, FLYPmedia

Written by Jim Gaines

August 5, 2009 at 12:17 am