The Journalists Are Getting Wristless
John Oliver’s widely viewed piece on Internet “native advertising”, the comingling of content and advertising in a hard-to-distinguish scuzzbrothy mélange of “fauxts” (I am so copyrighting that word, the XY-axis of faux and fact) , raised the interesting point that in order to have independent journalism, someone has to pay for it. And increasingly, there is a general unwillingness of the American public to do so. As we become increasingly unwilling to pay for content, what becomes of it?
Think about the various sections of the newspaper that have been co-opted in the “free” on-line world and what’s become of them. The classified section was quickly and easily co-opted by Craig’s List, which offered a more comprehensive and free access trove of listings (where else can you get a tap dancing transvestite in a French maids’ outfit to clean out your garage on a Thursday afternoon? In Des Moines?) but easily suffers from a buyer-beware filthiness rivaling Times Square cocaine dealers in the 1970s. The entertainment/movie section of the paper was completely ransacked by Fandango and its ilk, which bestows 4 ½ stars on summertime stinkers like “Let’s Be Cops” without offering a single review (just buy a gosh-darn ticket, for Cry-sakes!) News? Well why settle for day-old bread on the printed page when you can get fresh, up-to-the-minute news from the click happy folks at Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, et al, who offer approximately the same font size and page space for three simultaneously devastating wars and thirteen movie stars who shouldn’t wear bikinis?
What really is left of the newspaper that bares any resemblance to content is syndicated national news picked off of news wires, syndicated weather charts, syndicated sports data, syndicated comics, syndicated astrology and syndicated advice columns, syndicated celebrity birthday and “this day in history” columns and local news features so banal they could be written by Chinese adbots using a Bing translator. “Happy Cat Ear Opens Shiny Mouth on Route 205”. Essentially, information that costs so little that it is still worth the paper it is printed on.
So when newspaper began launching their on-line versions, one would think that this would be the place where extensive stories that don’t fit the traditional printed story would flourish. Where, to fill the void of its increasingly frayed terrestrial content, journalism would experience a renaissance, a Golden Age, a return to critical thought and in-depth reportage that fostered its’ initial ascent as the Fourth Estate. We would land brain-deep each day in a bonus DVDs’ worth of stories that encompass our ever expanding local, regional and national perspectives. Really? Is that what you thought?
As in Oliver’s piece…reality is…WHO on earthw would pay for that? In a Faustian get-what-you-pay-for bargain we instead get more (or less) of the same bejazzled drivel as everywhere else on the Interwebs. On the masthead of the current feed of the Los Angeles Daily News Group (yep 533,000 circulation)….”Action Packed TV May Make You Snack More”. The on-line version of a newspaper is just an increasingly limp and frail Charlie Brown Christmas tree, bedraggled under the weight of its banner ads and clicky-clicky nonsense, an accurate underlining of the “shit ain’t free” concept. Is it sad that this is the poorly lit back alley that journalistic integrity is driving down? What do you want for nothing and whose fault is it that you deem it of no value?
What is left there is a paucity of content so porous you could probably hold up your Kindle and see through it. It really costs money to hire journalists and story editors and fact checkers and the support personnel required to actually research, report and edit the news. Hasn’t anyone watched “The Newsroom” on HBO? (oh wait, no one has) And put simply, very few “news” organizations are willing to spend money (or apparently have the money to spend) on content, because you and I won’t pay for it!!!! So in the Mobius-like chicken and egg conundrum, more readers equals better news equals more readers equals better news we just have a stupid, fat entertainment executive eating a chicken omelet while whacking it to Helen Mirren’s young face grafted on to Jennifer Lawrence’s Hunger Games body. (go ahead, find THAT on the Wall Street Journal website).
So if your browser history consists of optimistic chats with sincere Nigerian princes, drunk celebrity arrest photos, hyper-opinionated punditry and a download of the new Maroon 5 album two weeks before it comes out, save your righteous indignation against the media spiders who are sucking you into their dirty, dirty pretend-content webs. In the words of Burt Bacharach, “if you see me walking down the street/And I start to cry every time we meet/Walk on by”.