In “Writing online: ‘You have to feed the machine — and the machine likes junk food,’ MinnPost journalist John Reinan summarizes and reiterates the complaint of former VentureBeat reporter Bekah Grant that the Internet is killing quality reporting.
Reinan quotes Grant as writing, “In a perfect world, important stories would attract the most pageviews, but that is not the world we live in.… Miley Cyrus and cat videos get more pageviews than stories about homelessness or healthcare. To write the stories you want, you have to feed the machine. And the machine likes junk food.”
Reinan tries to avoid tarring his own employer with this brush, stating “Grant’s experience doesn’t speak for every online journalist, of course. Many online news sites—like this one—provide their readers with thoroughly reported, carefully edited stories.”
But that unsupported statement dissolves in the face of his next sentences, “Grant’s beat—technology news—is one of the most competitive. When you’re reporting on the geek world, you have to move as quickly as the geeks do.… But digital competition is forcing traditional news outlets to move in the same direction. Newspapers across the nation have slashed their editing ranks deeply. Stories that used to be passed through the hands of three, four or five editors now are vetted by one—or none.”
The rest of his post continues to echo Grant’s bewailing of forces filling the media with LOL cats.
But here’s the thing: When automobiles first appeared on roads, they changed transportation—but they didn’t kill it. Sure, there are fewer horses on the road today; the air is dirtier, but the roads are cleaner.
Similarly, the advent of news radio affected newspapers, and television affected both, and now the Internet is affecting all three. Each new technology has changed the dissemination of information, but to argue that any of them is killing the news is so much wishing for the good old days of horse travel.
Certainly with more media—and broader reaching media—more media consumers exist; and certainly an increasing amount of what has been produced with each new medium is junk. (Do we really need a 24-hour food channel?)
But every time I see another one of these “the Internet is killing X” articles, I think: There’s a lazy, unimaginative person, crying about the loss of how things were, and missing the prospect of how things can be. Local newspapers are experiencing a resurgence, providing specialized news funded by page after page of advertisement. Radio is similarly alive and well, even without considering podcasting. Television is more vibrant than ever, with more networks than you can shake a stick at, let alone Internet-specific video. As for fewer editors and less time, lots of nonprofits and documentary teams continue to put out carefully researched materials. And ever since the earliest American penny press, the news itself has more often been a dead run to get a scoop than to write the perfect story.
So…you can’t find a traditional publisher to be your sugar daddy? Grab a niche; publish yourself; and build your own audience. That’s how those early publishers started in the first place.