Sunday, October 4, 2009

The core ideas.

The following is the first part of a focus statement I prepared for myself last night in order to keep on top of the core ideas of the project as I wade through the distracting mass of information in front of me everyday. It's pretty wordy and pompous, but I wanted to be as concise as possible. The second part, which covers exactly what it is I'm looking for in my research, is forthcoming.


It has been widely posited by practitioners and academics of journalism that there exists a crisis in this field. Organizations, so goes the conventional wisdom, are decreasingly profitable, independent and relied upon, while increasingly convergent, derivative and opinion-driven. There are a number of factors attributed. General access to innumerable sources of information on the Internet is a recurrent culprit. This affects all three traditional revenue streams of independent print media organizations - namely sales, subscription and advertisement. Increased supply of information sources online means deflated prices in the media market, which - with the very few exceptions of trade publications and insider financial projections newsletters - have now reached the price of zero on the Internet. This has deeply impacted both the sales profits and subscription rates of printed media. A similar, though nuanced, affect is happening in the advertisement world. Advertisement space on websites is

At the most basic level of analysis, there are two clearly visible strata of journalistic activity on the Internet. The broadest categorization of these strata could be described as "legacy" and "new." Legacy media represent all the supplementary online activities of organizations that existed first outside the Internet, or whose primary activities occur offline. Examples include newspaper websites, public broadcasters, online editions of magazines, online network television experiments, etc. New media are those whose primary home is digital and who have either limited or no physical or analog product in circulation. Though definitions vary slightly, these two categories are, generally recognized, established and understood. There is, however, a spectrum of activity between these two perceived polarities, which is increasingly expansive, nuanced and granular. On the far "new" end of the spectrum lie the personal blog posts, the YouTube videos, the Twitter posts, and so on. These media products are generally produced by what I will call "citizens." This simply means that the producers are not acting in a professional capacity. The extent of their expertise in the subject matter and technical or aesthetic refinement of the product, as well as the journalistic value of their communications, are highly variable and will, for my purposes, have no impact on their designation as "citizens." In this sense, for this particular study, a professional journalist can act in the capacity of a citizen while not formally at work. *(Without indulging too much in the ontology of a citizen producer, suffice it to say that, in the case of formally trained professionals producing casual items in their spare time, the individual's self-identification as either a professional or not will be honoured.) The more the new end of the journalistic spectrum is observed, however, the more we see how intricate and ill-defined its branches are. The simple model of individual, posted items of a single format (e.g. video, audio or text), tailored to a more or less canonistic sense of journalism in terms of style and content, is a tiny fraction of the meaningful, noteworthy reporting going on. The rest consists of an endless, amorphous glut of posted responses, forum threads, aggregator items, meta-data analyses, archival collections, annotated wikis, social bookmarks and on and on. Similarly, distribution online is not limited to a "go-to" or subscription model. Embedding, RSS, aggregation, reposting, remixing, meta-managing and the like have established innumerable tactics to deliver and discover journalistic information. Much or all of this, of course, applies to the online activities of the legacy media, this being an unbroken continuum of types.

Because of these factors, there is a Wild West of journalistic activity occurring. It is not uncommon to find out about major events through social networking and forums before the large legacy media get hold of them, or before the consumer has the time to check those legacy media. Likewise, the tightening of financial belts in media organizations has increased their dependence on new media, and quite probably decreased their stature amongst consumers. All the while, the diminishing job market has contributed to the number of trained, highly skilled producers who have no formal outlet for their insight and production. Furthermore, the freedom of new media production, in terms of length, format, editorial control, subject matter and so on, has proven attractive to all manner of content producer. There are also more and more legacy players attempting to harness some of the influence of the new media as to transform it into profit somehow, though profit models often remain elusive.

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