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February 20, 2009

The state of newspapers

Watching segments of the Frontline episode on the changing dynamic of newspapers and reading the related texts was nothing new for me. The material wasn't boring, but I've followed the continuing decline of newspapers where nothing seems to work to make them profitable again.

To elaborate on the discussion proposed Wednesday, I believe local ownership is necessary for news quality and management. Avista took over the Star Tribune without much media experience, and the paper has since filed for bankruptcy, compared to its McClatchy days when it weathered the storm beating on other papers. Corporations operate nationally and have difficulty targeting local demographics; they have to cater to a more generic group.

However, even if all ownership was local, the future looks bleak for newspapers. Two fatal errors was lack of anticipation for new media and offering all its content for free. That's not to say readers should pay for it, but a model where bloggers and other aggregates would pay a fee to link a newspaper's stories online would certainly help bring dollars in. However, solving declining readership is even tougher. While stations and websites do link to newspapers, the speed that news can be transmitted often makes newspapers obsolete as far as getting there first. By the time you read the morning headlines, you likely heard about all of them either on TV or online.

The whirlwind continues to blow and the outlook is grim. For now, most media outlets will likely limp through the recession until things get better, and that is a serious threat to the quality of journalism.

February 17, 2009

Critiquing Andrew Keen

Keen was the focus of last week's lectures with his general criticism of new media, including citizen journalism and other user-generated content. He claimed that these people only add clutter to the Internet because they don't have the professional training that working journalists and other masters of the field have.

Keen does have a point in that regard. The most popular videos on YouTube aren't those created by professionals, but amateur-quality videos that offer little substance, including "Evolution of Dance." Other popular videos include music videos and other content that entertains rather than informs.

However, Keen overlooks the impact users have with mainstream media, as people like Dan Gillmor are ready to point out how the citizen is proving to be an influential force. It was the blogosphere that caught Trent Lott's pro-segregation comments in 2002 and CBS' reporting mishaps regarding George W. Bush's military record in 2004. YouTube became a household name when a campaign opponent of George Allen posted a video where he used the term "macaca," costing Allen his Senate seat.

Keen's arguments certainly position him as an elitist or stuck to old ideas. New media can be a successful counterpart to the traditional forms if they're utilized for democracy and not simply as a space where people can watch babies laughing and cats playing pianos. While they may get a laugh, they support Keen's argument about new media hurting us instead of helping us.