At last week’s Next American City‘s Blogging the City: The Internet and Urban Advocacy, several of the more notable local bloggers talked about how, in an era when even free local papers are having to lay off staff, blogs are becoming the place people go to get coverage about local issues that matter to them. The Washington Post isn’t going to send a reporter to cover a transportation planning board meeting — but David Alpert of greatergreaterwashington.org not only goes to those meetings and reports on them, he encourages other people to come along and put in their voices for better public transportation, for example.
At the end of a spirited debate on how local blogs are changing how citizens get involved in their cities, somebody thought to point out: Is this a good thing? Is it a good idea that mostly-affluent, mostly-young urban professionals are organizing online to strategize about pursuing their own agenda? We looked at each other in confusion. Of course it’s a good thing! We’re the people, taking back power from The Man! Bureaucrats thrived for years on citizen inaction; now we’ve got a voice, and we’re making it heard! Except, the lone dissenter persisted, we don’t represent the city as a whole. We’re part of the people, not all of the people. DC is not made up of young urban professionals, not-even-close. We’re just the ones who have more access to computers.
For all that blogs are a wonderful thing, there’s still a digital divide. If the press isn’t looking out for The People’s interest, who will speak for those who don’t have blogs? If blogs and other user-created content are the future of media, where does that leave those who don’t have the tools to create content?
Today at IFC’s Make Media Matter Town Hall Meeting, I was struck by the same question. A panel of seven celebrity journalists, including George Stephanopoulos, John King, and Juan Williams, discussed the present and future of traditional journalism. The discussion ranged from whether there are more “soft” stories on Obama than there were on Bush and Clinton and why that might be, to the fact that almost all the talking heads are white men, to how journalism of the future is going to look. The important thing, according to Tucker Carlson — who was not as loud as we had expected — is to make journalism pay. Investigative journalism may be dead, though no one wants to admit it, but the thirst for news is out there, and people aren’t willing to wait until the evening news to come on to get their content. No one has yet figured out how to make online news profitably. Norman Ornstein touched on a tech solution that would employ a news aggregator where you’d pay to access the articles that looked interesting. I was intrigued, but despite Tucker Carlson’s insistence that computers are cheap these days, I remain skeptical. One of the campaigns we’re working on is the unemployment epidemic; in these economic times, should we really be looking to expensive tech to solve all our information problems? Or will the new face of journalism further alienate the “Haves” from the “Have-Nots”? To be honest, I’m not sure that these celebrity journalists have any better idea of the answers to the crisis of the traditional press than I do.
The relatively civil debate at Make Media Matter degenerated in the last few minutes into squabbling. It was a bit like reading the comments in a blog — neither side listening to the other and everyone shouting to be heard — except that the players were considerably better-paid.
At Massey Media, blogs are one of many tools we use to access the media. Traditional media like newspapers and television are still the best way to get our message out to many people who can’t afford a laptop and broadband, and they will continue to be until a new media infrastructure takes their place. Blogs are great when targeting certain audiences, but they are by no means our only strategy left in a changing news world! New media is the next big thing and we won’t miss that boat, but television is still the primary source for many people, and we will continue to work with that framework while at the same time exploring all the new options to reach a more tech-savvy audience as well.
- Janaki Spickard-Keeler