As you probably know, Otis ably steers the ship over at the PokerStars blog as well as writes his own smart, funny, insightful personal blog Rapid Eye Reality. In a previous life, Otis had experience in news reporting -- “real” journalism -- which kind of distinguishes him a bit in the world of poker media. That previous experience also means Otis tends to raise an eyebrow at articles with titles like “The Death of Journalism.”
The article is by Ian Shapira, and tells the story of his having researched and written a feature for the WaPo, then subsequently discover his article had reappeared in a different form over on the popular news and gossip website Gawker.
Shapira’s initial response was to experience a kind of narcissistic pleasure at seeing his work disseminated further via Gawker. Then his editor at the WaPo suggested he shouldn’t be so excited. “They stole your story,” said his editor to Shapira. “Where’s your outrage, man?”
Shapira’s article provides further details of the writing of the feature -- a highly laborious exercise that took hours and hours of legwork, interviewing, and research -- and the process by which the story got cut-and-pasted (essentially) over on Gawker. Shapira even ended up phoning up the fellow who “authored” the Gawker piece, a guy named Hamilton Nolan, who revealed it had taken him “a half-hour to an hour” to pull the piece together.
The rest of Shapira’s piece talks further about some of the implications of sites like Gawker -- among which he lists The Huffington Post and The Daily Beast -- these “free-rider” type sites the content of which is primarily “sourced” from other places on the web and then presented in ways that maximize hits and other revenue-creating actions from readers, sometimes crediting original sources though often doing so only ambiguously or non-conspicuously.
The title of Shapira’s article -- “The Death of Journalism” -- refers to at least a couple of different phenomena, actually. One is that severe financial struggle being faced by traditional print newspapers like The Washington Post. They are “dying” insofar as circulations are dwindling, staffs are being cut, and some papers are printing fewer pages, publishing fewer times per week, or ceasing to exist altogether.
The other is a general shift away from traditional ideas of reporting -- those that value accuracy, thoroughness, and originality -- toward the new set of values one sees being followed on these “free-rider” sites which instead emphasize speed, pithiness, and what might be called “the art of borrowing.” The “wild and riffy world of the Internet,” writes Shapira, “is killing real reporting -- the kind of work practiced not just by newspapers but by nonprofits, some blogs and other news outlets.”
With regard to the former -- the business failure of print papers -- there isn’t too much to say. An inevitable consequence of the introduction of new media, one might argue. Books are in trouble, too. For some new college students, the act of sitting down with a book and reading an assignment -- with no computer screen glowing nearby -- has already become a strange, new experience. We can mope about that (or some of us can), but it doesn’t seem too constructive to do so. Such is life.
I do have a thought about the latter, though -- that is, the way the internet and its various financially-driven models tend to punish those who care about so-called “traditional” journalistic values like accuracy, thoroughness, and originality and instead reward the aggregators, the cut-and-pasters, the “riffers.”
Nolan -- the Gawker “author” -- described what he does to Shapira as “trying to put in a highlight reel of the stories. It’s like doing movie previews.” I understand the value in having someone else digest the news for me and provide “highlights” like this. But I also instinctively know better than to value that above the actual reporting on which such sites rely.
But not everyone sees a difference. Many genuinely prefer brevity, shun depth -- both readers and those who run the websites. Hell, poker players are probably more focused on that equation than most of the population, measuring their hours by big bets won as they do.
Indeed, having already cruised past 700 words here -- never mind 140 characters -- I’ve probably lost four-fifths of my readers. To those who remain, I appreciate the time you’ve invested, and invite you to take a minute or two more to think about what constitutes “accuracy” or “thoroughness” or “originality” when you pause between sessions to make your daily rounds of poker sites and blogs.
And whether or not those things matter to you.