Journalism and Span

Listened to a podcast version of a radio show with New York Times correspondent John Burns.

Though he has won the Pulitzer prize twice, he still has interesting things to say… Still displayed a few journalistic ticks, but fairly interesting.

And the New York Times attracts some attention. Of course, there’s been a number of major events surrounding the New York Times in the last few years. Some see the New York Times in a separate class, either a “good” newspaper or as the “straw man” what’s wrong with journalism. No matter which view is taken, journalism as a whole is changing.

Been maybe a bit harsh on journalists but it’s more a matter of problems inherent to journalism rather than a problem with journalists themselves. On the Daily Show recently, host Jon Stewart compared journalists to eight year-old children playing soccer without knowing about positions. They all scramble for the ball and will follow it around. Maybe journalism as a game is played with those rules: go for the ball, no matter what. A fair deal has been said about the short attention span of “The Media” or “The People” (especially US citizens). Reliance on “news” («actualité») pretty much implies such a short attention span. Of course, historians work on the past and there’s no way to know the future so people should focus on the present. Fair enough. But it makes for little analysis. What counts as “in-depth coverage” in journalism rarely includes any real analysis beyond conclusions taken out of context from actual analysis. The very format of a journalistic medium makes it difficult for any long-term reflection.

There’s an interesting relationship between academics and journalists. As “experts,” academics may be interviewed by journalists. As messengers, journalists may be a source for academics. But the division of labor is fairly strict and might become stricter in some respects. In both cases, there might be a cult of personality (imagine Steven Pinker with Larry King…). There’s certainly a notion of prestige associated with authority.

The ‘Net takes part in important changes in journalism. As a whole. Not just blogging and podcasting or the fact that newspapers and news shows have web pages. The whole Digital Revolution. For one thing, be it in instant messages, chatrooms, emails, or blogs, Internet users are writing a lot. Some might complain that it implies sloppier style on the part of most people. There will always be old curmudgeons. But, clearly, people are active at written communication. Not to be too McLuhanian here but it’s a fundamental difference between communication methods. Those communication processes make people active participants as opposed to passive recipients.

Some apply the concept of a generation gap to any vision of change and will say that younger people have no attention span. A number of them assign video games as either a symbol or even a cause for shorter attention spans. Thing is, those who are really involved in video games can display much longer attention span by playing for several hours straight than those who accuse them of short attention spans, who mostly remain empassive/em for long hours of time. Ah, well…

Then, because there’s a lot of obviously inaccurate information online, a lot of people are able to «faire la part des choses» in adopting a critical stance toward the information they receive. What’s powerful is that some people apply the same critical eye to “The Media,” including prestigious newspapers like the New York Times. Going back to trust and truth, people will trust themselves and trust some of the information they receive instead of simply trusting a source.

Still, many online phenomena reveal even more myopia than most standard journalism. People jump on the newest trend and forget all about it within days. Oh, sure, the ‘Net archives a lot of the instantaneous exchanges that are happening. But the Digital Revolution is more about “Living in the Now” than about developing long-term understanding of slow social processes. A funny exercise is to look at online discussions from 1993–1994. They sound old and quaint. But we’re talking about less than a generation. Are we changing faster than our predecessors? We certainly perceive change differently.


Author: enkerli

French-speaking ethnographer, homeroaster, anthropologist, musician, coffee enthusiast.

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