Thursday, March 10, 2011

Viewpoint: Wisconsin, the media and the New Media

Two days ago I wrote, then deleted, another post about events in Wisconsin. The headline was something along the lines of "Wisconsin protests continue, media goes AWOL".

The post was deleted because the purpose of this site is supposed to be about New Media, written for those who might consider themselves old media. The reason it was written, however, was that as a trained journalist I wake every morning with one question on my mind: what's the most important story today?

For the past month, the most important domestic news story has been events in Madison. I would further argue that the number one media story has been how this story has been blown by the editors and publishers we count on in this country for news. The grand old men are letting us down.

Media trucks in Madison three weeks ago.
As of yesterday, most in the media had
had moved on. Photo: D.B. Hebbard

Three weeks ago I went up to Madison to see for myself. That weekend the media was out in force. That was the weekend that Tea Party activists were bussed in to have a relatively small counter demonstration, so the media got the story they were looking for -- one side says this, the other says that.

It was a pretty piss poor weekend for the media world. Example: the New York Times sent the son of the publisher to cover the story, and immediately he created a controversy with his amateurish+ reporting.

Today's Wisconsin news in the NYT is penned by a reporter out of Chicago -- the Times has bugged out. And so has most of the rest of the media. One of the only media outlets that decided to remain was Fox News, but then again they have a reason other than news to be there. The Fox News TV crew is there to report the corporate narrative, spread not only by their cable news channel, but by its print and electronic media products such as The Daily. Twice the network has been caught fabricating stories: first, it reporter said he was assaulted, then punched, then finally "bumped"; second, Fox reported "violence" and "thuggery" among the protesters, as well as sunshine, short-sleeved protesters and palm trees in wintry Madison, Wisconsin.

Even the Chicago Tribune, the largest newspaper in the Midwest, is using a Reuters story today. It's a two and a half to three hour drive from downtown Chicago to Madison, and they can't spare a reporter?

So please understand that for me, it is hard to wake up every morning and ask that same old question without coming to the conclusion that the number one story today in the media industry is not Apple subscription policies, or whether newspapers should construct paywalls, it is whether the mainstream media really is going to be a player in the New Media world. In the end, why should TNM write about the new Dallas Morning News paywall when the DMN is becoming increasingly irrelevant to its readers. (Today's lead story on DMN's website is Ebby Halliday celebrates 100th with gala at Meyerson in Dallas.

The average age of television viewers has hit 51 -- the average age of newspaper readers is now 56. But the conversation online among most media writers is not about how to attract new readers through better news products, but how to extract revenue from the remaining existing readers, while simultaneously driving down the cost of content through aggregation, and "community journalism". The same voices today proclaiming that media properties should fight Apple and Google and not be tempted to create tablet and mobile editions, were yesterday fighting efforts to publish (and sell) on the web. The names and faces of these journalism industry leader may have changed, but their message remains the same: let's get irrelevant.

One website can not fight this trend, it can only continue to report and analyze. I recognize clearly that TNM doesn't draw the same level of web traffic as those that are leading the charge backward. But it remains frustrating and disheartening to know that for many media industry executives think AOL and the Huffington Post is what New Media looks like. That is hilarious I suppose, since the news today is that AOL is about to layoff hundreds of employees -- that's surely one way to know that AOL is definitely old school.

Yesterday, thousands of Americans, including me, were glued to their Twitter feeds, watching as @wiunion produced more than one tweet a second. When the old media fails, there will be a new media rising to take its place.

That is one reason this site has been obsessed with events in Madison. As teachers, policemen and firefighters fight to stay in the middle class, most of the media world has ignored their story, and simultaneously told their readers that they do not matter. The Times and Tribune may only care about Wall Street, budget cuts and Charlie Sheen, the rest of America wants to know who and why people are trying to take away their salaries, health care and retirement resources.