"Why bother with newspapers, if this is all they offer? Agnew was right. The press is a gang of cruel faggots. Journalism is not a profession or a trade. It is a cheap catch-all for fuck-offs and misfits - a false doorway to the backside of life, a filthy piss-ridden little hole nailed off by the building inspector, but just deep enough for a wino to curl up from the sidewalk and masturbate like a chimp in a zoo-cage."

From Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, by Dr Hunter S Thompson, who died on Sunday age 67.

A number of commentators have written about the imminent death of newspapers, particularly local ones. The UK's journalism trade journal Press Gazette (PG) carried two pieces last week on this subject (ironically the PG is itself struggling to come to terms with the internet).

Steve Egginton, editorial director of Coull, writes that news television on the net will not only wipe out the local press, but local radio and TV too. The technology is already there to provide "really local news" which can even tell you, over the web, when your rubbish will be collected.

"At a time when sales of the major regional titles are falling, companies that stick to ink will sink," writes Mr Egginton.

Also in the PG, there is a feature about the BBC's plans to introduce its own "ultra local news", accessible via satellite, cable and broadband. Digital technology has now made it possible to target news and information services to much smaller regions, sending local newspaper publishers into a blind panic about the increased competition (see "BBCi threatens local newspapers".

Both articles miss one fundamental point: if the technology to deliver local multimedia news is becoming so much cheaper and more accessible, why do we need journalists?

Already, on the back of blogging, we have a new phenomenon known as "podcasting". Anyone with basic equipment can now effectively 'broadcast' by recording to MP3 files that can be downloaded via the web to play on iPods or other MP3 players. All of which will contribute to the continuing rise of the "citizen journalist", who can publish more quickly than any journalist working in print, and who can target niche areas more effectively because he or she is not handicapped by overheads.

As Jason Salas, a news reporter writes: "In my opinion, most newspapers will fall victim to their own ignorance/arrogance and failure to realise they're too far behind the times until it's too late. They'll be dead before they know it - a sad but not unexpected casualty in the name of industrial progress."

Dr Thompson tore up the rules of "impartial" journalism, George Bush has tried to re-invent it:

"Bush officials have divorced themselves from reality. They flipped TVs in the West Wing and Air Force One to Fox News. They paid conservative columnists handsomely to promote administration programs. Federal agencies distributed packaged "news" video releases with faux anchors so local news outlets would run them. As CNN reported, the Pentagon produces Web sites with "news" articles intended to influence opinion abroad and at home, but you have to look hard for the disclaimer: "Sponsored by the US Department of Defense." The agencies spent a whopping $88 million spinning reality in 2004, splurging on PR contracts.

"Even the Nixon White House didn't do anything this creepy. It's worse than hating the press. It's an attempt to reinvent it."

[New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, February 17 2005]

It may well be time to bid farewell to the elitism, and increasing corruption, of journalism and let the citizens have their say.

Comment? Email me


From Jonny Evans, 15:26 22 February 2005

The Bush government and US corporate media are, it seems to me, engaged in attempting to protect themselves from just such an eventuality.

There are signs of an attempt to define a journalist as "Anyone who works for a large media company", which threatens self-publishers, business start-ups, bloggers and podcasters alike.

Essentially, they are testing the First Amendment, which was originally designed to protect pamphleteers, and the like.

Recent activity by Apple against some of the Mac rumour sites suggest such activity is taking place.

There's a fairly recent story on this here.

Anyway, I don't believe this is the first case designed to protect the status quo, and given the de facto change in journalists' rights as regards re-publication and so on in most territories in recent years (and the commensurate move toward publishers stressing the commercial at the expense of the factual), I don't believe it will be the last case.

From Al Kratzer, 13:38 24 February 2005

Tima and again we all seem to take the latest GEE-WHIZ web technology announcement as another example of how the newspapers and journalism are dead men walking. Let's have a reality check here.

In the U.S., cable TV providers are given a monopoly over a given geographic area. In exchange for that they often have to set up one channel for "public access" and have a token budget devoted to being able to play viewer submitted programming or provide cameras and broadcasting tools to those who wish to use them. The channels are generally ignored. Why? Because the quality of what is shown is dismal. I'm not talking about local network affiliates that produce the evening news and a few Sunday AM public affairs programs here. I mean REAL citizen produced programs. To suggest that this type of programming is going to take over is laughable. The horrid production values alone are enough to make most people turn it off. Delivering the same dung through a website isn't going to make a bit of difference.

Every product that finds a niche in the market does so because of the value that product adds to someones life. Apply that principle to journalism. As long as the value added is sufficent to command attention, the delivery method doesn't matter. Solid gathering, fact checking, prose writing and packaging is the value added to raw information that needs to be focused on here. Sorry, but these are learned abilities that few dabblers will ever master.

That doesn't even get into the continuing commitment of setting yourself up as a trusted source of information. How many citizen generated blogs (not those maintained by insiders with a reason to keep up the fa├žade of expertise) will ever have more than a few weeks entries in them and quickly be forgotten? New year's resolutions have a longer shelf life than a typical blog. This goes for video broadcasts, podcasts etc. The minute the more talented of these citizen journalists want to go from doing it for fun to making a living off of it, they'll find out just what the newspapers have been struggling with - how do you make $ in a medium that has created a culture of "free"? The fact that they don't have to spend money to broadcast doesn't solve that problem. The idea that there are thousands of other podcast celeb wannabees won't make it any easier either.

Focus on creating the journalistic value added. Market that value aggressively. Embrace the technology.

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