Shortsightedness at the Democrat and Chronicle

Well, it’s trackbacks all around in the Rochester blogging scene today. . .

Sayhar at RT picked up on my point in an earlier post about the need for permalinking and providing a repository of information on the web.  Looking at that and a recent City Newspaper article, he turns in some good analysis of his own: turning the tide upstate

This is a big problem. You’d think that with the rise of the net, transcripts of public meetings and a more open government would make it easier for reporters to do their traditional jobs. Oh wait. The County Government is the very antithesis of open government.

That doesn’t excuse our local media. If you want to have a hyper-local focus, fine. But part of local reporting is local politics. Or is a local spelling bee more important than undemocratic, unanimously opposed corporate handouts?

Most of what this is, both his points, my point and the City News analysis, boils down to typically flat-footed responses to the new medium of the Internet.  I’m not at all convinced that paper news is going away any time soon, though the print media companies seem to have come to that conclusion all by themselves.  Rather, I think that all-around laziness coupled with half-assed attempts at modernization, served over a bed of fatalism leads many news outlets to where they now find themselves. This all might be perhaps a good subject for a wider article, but for now, let me make a few basic points:  

The truth is that there is no organization, not television news and certainly not blogs, with the wide-spread connections and resources that major print news outlets possess.  If you don’t believe me, consider how many legitimate breaks in news happen on television compared to the investigative reports of the Washington Post or the New York Times.  Even after all the time that television has been available – even long after, as Al Gore points out in The Assault on Reason, television has passed print media as the number 1 news source for Americans – the print news media of our society continue to dominate the legitimate news industry.

So blaming the Internet for your problems is just laziness, pure and simple.  Sure, print media across the board is losing business, but a 2 or 3 percent decline, while significant, does not add up to the additional millions visiting web news services. They are two entirely different dynamics.

Now, what might be a legitimate concern is the pure lack of substance in half the stuff of your average newspaper.  Remember when a single news paper page had like ten stories on it?  Now, there’s two or maybe three, and the print is bigger.  Moreover, the national headlines keep getting smaller and the Living section keeps getting bigger. . . .  and to stem the loss of readers, Gannet is increasing the flow in this direction!

Back to the Al Gore book, one of the most interestingly salient points he makes is that print media was the vehicle through which democracy was made possible.  People took the paper seriously, even going out and getting the (now long-forgotten) afternoon news paper after they already had the morning one.

If the tide is to be stemmed, it won’t happen because of the Insider.  It will happen because the print media decide to take themselves as seriously as the citizens of this country once took them.  The media is the Fourth Estate, even if we’re not always pleased with our representatives.

As for the forays into the Internet, Gannet News reminds me of a monkey playing a synthesizer: sure, they can press keys and things happen – even melodic things – but they can’t seem to duplicate the things they like, and in the end they’re really just pushing buttons randomly.  What the hell does having animated slideshows have to do with being an online news paper?  And how about that “StoryChat” crappola they use?  It’s based on phpBB, but they don’t let you use BBcode; it’s clunky; it sucks.

The powers that be need to stop a minute, slow down and regroup.  Assess what it is they want to do with the website, hire people who can make it happen, and do it.  Stop reacting and start acting.  Cut the shit with the stupid surveys, they’re not going to get you anywhere.

And we need to insist that it happen.  Media is entirely too important to democracy for democratically-led citizens to let it go to waste.

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By Tommy Belknap

Owner, developer, editor of DragonFlyEye.Net, Tom Belknap is also a freelance journalist for The 585 lifestyle magazine. He lives in the Rochester area with his wife and son.