Thursday, August 06, 2009

Time Is Money, So Can I Afford to Pause to Reflect?

Time Is MoneyOn Sunday, Otis sent us all a tweet linking to an interesting Washington Post article called “The Death of Journalism.”

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.

Hot off the pressesThe 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.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

read through the end, as always.

8/06/2009 10:07 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Reminds me of an interesting article I read years ago. It states the fact that the 'designers' of frozen food meals have come to the realization (after extensive research) that a meal must take less than 5.5 minutes to prepare or the consumer simply won't buy the item. Almost the time of a long commercial break. Pathetic, yet true.

8/06/2009 12:36 PM  
Blogger Otis said...

As a man who once spent an entire year working on a television story that lasted less than five minutes, I think my position should be clear.

That said, as a pro blogger (is that really what I've come to?), I often borrow from the reporting of my former colleagues. I do my best to not cut and paste the entirety of works (or even a majority). Still, I could see where one might get miffed.

I have a hard time accepting a business model that relies almost entirely on waiting for someone else to do all the work and then profiting from it. That is, much like porn and obscenity, I can't define it, but I know it when I see it. What's more, the guys at Gawker know it when they do it.

Sadly, I feel like the toothpaste is way out of the tube on this one. I think traditional journalism as I was trained has long since passed its death rattle. I wish it hadn't, and maybe it will come back around. Hell, it rallied after the earlier part of the last century (which looked a lot more like today than a lot of 'journalists' would like to admit). So, maybe there is hope. For now, though, I'm happy to not be fighting Gawker or working for it. Either one is a losing proposition.

I'll also readily admit I've pre-written a blurb about this in my Friday Mental Massage to be published tomorrow. Now you've given me a good link.

8/06/2009 4:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gonna print it out and read well over the weekend. As a working print journo for nearly 20 years, very keen to check it out.

Skinny D/The Absentee

8/06/2009 9:59 PM  

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