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Maybe the medium is just the medium (Or, why are we so worked up about Twitter?)

As I’ve scanned through my RSS feeds this week, I’ve been struck by the sheer number of  headlines having to do with changes in media. It’s natural, I suppose, that I’d be seeing lots of that kind of coverage in newspapers, TV, and radio, since those changes hit especially close to home for those of […]

newmediaphoto

Photo by Krista76 from Flickr, reproduced under a Creative Commons license

As I’ve scanned through my RSS feeds this week, I’ve been struck by the sheer number of  headlines having to do with changes in media. It’s natural, I suppose, that I’d be seeing lots of that kind of coverage in newspapers, TV, and radio, since those changes hit especially close to home for those of us who work in the industry. And we media types do like talking about ourselves, don’t we?

Even so, I’m surprised at depth of the melodrama and the fear: Twitter is destroying/saving journalism. (Please.) What in the world will replace print newspapers/TV/radio? (Digitally disseminated, multimedia content, of course.) But will there be a place for “real” journalism in this brave new world? (Sure there will, it’ll just be bundled into different sorts of content/money-making packages than we’re used to with the newspaper/magazine ads+eyeballs=content model.)

All the handwringing about the slow, steady demise of “old media” in recent years (some of which kvetching I’ve done myself, admittedly) seems to me to be missing the point a bit. Whether we’re talking about print publication or network TV, or commercial radio–the days of  hegemony for homogenized content delivered from the top down are numbered. Predetermined, neatly packaged content we all share and share alike just doesn’t have a monopoly on public attention anymore. I have a hard time getting upset about that. I like niche content; I enjoy the sort of obscure creations that thrive in the populist soup of new media but which wouldn’t have a prayer of getting off the ground in the winner-take-all, numbers-driven world of old media models of communication.

I have a feeling, once we who work in the field find our feet again and figure out how to swim in these new media waters, we’ll find our new horizons to be exhilarating, if different from the joys of writing for just the printed page–especially once we expand our skill sets to include some audio/visual editing competence, too. Some things will be lost, to be sure; but let’s not lose sight of what we stand to gain: greater autonomy, a fluid interplay between reader and writer; the tangible possibility for small but talented voices to triumph over their less agile big-media counterparts, simply by virtue of being better at what they do. The rules of new media may be different, but that doesn’t mean what we’re actually saying to each other, the message itself, is. Maybe it’s just that more messages are available now that you don’t have to have lots of money or designated authority to put it out there and see what sticks.

Such a cacophony of new voices is messy and noisy, for sure; but I find it terribly exciting, too. I run into unexpected delights and insights online every day, and I’m more engaged with colleagues and friends and the richness of what’s happening in my community–thanks to the advent of these new technologies.

I’m not denying that the pain caused by these media transitions is real, especially while those of us in the business of words struggle not to get lost in the gap between these historical chapters in media innovation, as we adapt to new media’s still-murky economies and the unfamiliar textures of its modes of communicating.

But the sky isn’t falling and storytelling isn’t going away. We’re just changing what tools we use to spread the word and shaking up the authority structure that gets to decide who gets to say what and to whom. And, of course, we’re still trying to figure out how much and whether we’re willing to pay for it all.

What’s your take? Do you think these changes in medium are altering the fundamentals of what we’re saying to each other? Are you embracing RSS feeds and social media networks and content on demand, or are you resistant to them, fearful of what’s being lost in the process of all these tectonic shifts in communication?

Bonus link: Christie’s (!) has a webcast of a panel discussion from 3/12 on “The Future of Arts Journalism”: includes Senior Director of Cultural Initiatives from the Pew Charitable Trust, the Cultural News Editor from The New York Times, and the prestigious Columbia School of Journalism’s director of the school’s M.A. program in arts and culture journalism. (Link courtesy of a fine industry blog, ARTicles, by the National Arts Journalism Program)

  • Sarah Schultz says:

    Susannah,

    Great thoughts here. I too love the populist soup but if my recent experiences with the new Facebook interface has shown me anything it has shown me that I WANT FILTERS! While I welcome the new democracy of content delivery, frankly, not all content is created equal. I am starting to tune out of the steady overload of information I receive and am exhausted from “curating” my informational life and the anxiety of wondering what I might be missing. If anything, Twitter for me reinforces a competitive culture of being “the firstest with the mostest.” New is not necessary news. I’m not so worried about the future of the media in the new medium. I like lots of information and I love recommendations. I am more concerned about things like the future of privacy and discretion and simply getting bored by the sheer amount of chatter.

    But I’m middle-aged now, slow to adapt and am already nostaligic for simple text messaging which I somehow just managed to master. As well, I grieve my fading attention span which has adapted to the new frontier of the web and has torn me from my old lovers, the long novel and extended essay. That said, I can’t wait to get a Kindle.

    I realize it’s all here to stay and has tremendous possibilities, but I am really going to miss the visceral, edited and easy pleasure of picking up the Sunday Times from my porch and leisurely reading and discussing it over coffee with my boyfriend.

  • Sarah, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. If we’re going to have a flood of new content coming at us from all quarters, we have to be able to filter it down to just what we want. It’s definitely pretty raw out there still. In fact, I’m hoping it’s just that need you mention–for distillation and for useful help navigating to what you want instead of being overwhelmed by the mess of stuff that you don’t–that will keep editors like me in work. Maybe you can find a handful folks you trust, each with their own areas of peculiar expertise and interest, who can go a long way toward sifting through all that mass of information for you.

    And that will leave you time to read the print stuff you love. I don’t think print will die, I just think it’ll not be front and center anymore. I have a feeling the best of print journalism will survive: http://tbm.thebigmoney.com/articles/impressions/2009/03/17/magazine-isnt-dying

    And today, I’m feeling like a cockeyed optimist: Maybe what remains of print will be only the loveliest stuff, the most painstakingly produced, the very long-form essays we both love. And since it won’t have to be the solitary means of written communication any more (nor bear the brunt of the burden for financial gain), maybe print publishing can be a boutique operation, a loss leader of sorts and something done for love instead of profit.

  • Joanna says:

    I like how you have presented this recent spate of stories!
    I’m fascinated by the mixed reactions as well. Somewhere between “the sky if falling” and “this is the dawning of the age of Aquarius” we have the roller-coaster of living through a major shift in the way knowledge, words and images are transmitted, in the arts, in news and in schools. Our responses will also range all along the spectrum, as is the case now: some people pride themselves on not owning a TV, some watch TV while they twitter and live blog about it to their friends. Libraries are more crowded than ever; the magazine racks in B and N have dozens of new publications; some people never pay attention to the news in any format while others are getting press passes as bloggers and video-journalists. People are making art and news instead of just consuming it, in news ways. Instead of the filters of institutions with big capital (like newspapers) there will spring up other kinds of filters, some of which we can arrange as we please, like the RSS feeds on a Google Reader or the favorites in our Bookmarks. Some of them will be built on trust and transparency. Vinyl records are no longer the only way you can buy music, and they haven’t disappeared either. They are being put to new uses.
    Today a blog friend whom I’ve never met in person asked a question on Twitter that I was able to answer for him. The photo you’ve used in this picture was taken by another blog friend (whom I have met) who tweeted about it, which led me to this post. But I quite Facebook because of the “noise” of meaningless updates. We’ll sort it out, but we will need to figure out what the new forms of literacy will be.

  • Sheila Smith says:

    I think the shift to those kind of tools and methods is already occurring. For example, I get an email from Politics in Minnesota every morning that aggregates all of the interesting political news from blogs and newspapers. It’s basically just a page of links and headlines, and if I’m interested I click through. It means I don’t have to read all of the relevant blogs and newspapers and get right to what I’m interested in, so it saves me hours and hours of sifting. We need more of that. If I had the time, I’d do that with arts news every morning. But you need a staff person who is doing the aggregating.

  • I’m with you Sheila! I rely on an RSS reader (I do love my iGoogle) and a bunch of news feeds to sort out the content I want to keep track of. Content aggregating newsletters, RSS feeds, issue-specific blogs are the only way to go–I don’t know what I’d do without them.

    For folks who are looking for a place to begin, here are just a few of the arts-related aggregators and blogs whose news feeds I check in with every day:

    Artsjournal.com (national, multidisciplinary links to major newspapers’ arts coverage)
    Arts and Letters Daily (national, newspaper & major magazine coverage of arts and culture news)
    Flavorwire (national, with emphasis on pop cultural, visual arts, and design news)
    The Rumpus (national, w/ emphasis on books and film)
    The Art Newspaper (national, visual arts emphasis)
    Art Fag City (national, fine arts)
    MinnPost’s Arts Arena blog (local)
    Pioneer Press and Strib, of course
    MSP mag, City Pages, and MPR’s arts section
    Twin Cities Daily Planet’s arts headlines (local)
    3-Minute Egg (local arts vlog, lots of arts event previews)
    And, if you’re not subscribing to mnartists.org’s own access+ENGAGE, by all means, sign up for that too

    (If anyone wants a bunch of recommendations for book coverage online, I’d be happy to hook you up with some of those too. Just email me and I’ll send you a list: editor@mnartists.org)

  • Bonus-bonus link
    Some excellent analysis of media trends and some well-considered thoughts on the future of news: http://xark.typepad.com/my_weblog/2009/03/news-futures-a-whats-next-overview.html

  • Gregg Reed says:

    The changes in media keep my head turning around the room. Today we’re all flying on the same plane, waiting for our next disaster. Once, the medium was the message. Next, the massage. And now its the work out. Or maybe the text message. I now use all of the types of news media in my home office together. News is up-to-the-minute 24 hours a day. The news starts with my RSS. If it’s time for another disaster, on go network and cable TV. Next, e-mail messages fly to my relatives and friends who might be involved. And more e-mail messages go to news rooms. If I can’t trust what I see, I wait for the newspaper article in the morning. If I need more background, I turn to web site. News is now a chain reaction of media outlets. The Insitute for New Media Studies at the University of Minnesota has provided public events about new media for many years. See http://www.inms.umn.edu

  • Gregg Reed says:

    In the fall of 2008, editor Troy Pieper was discussing whether “Art Review and Preview” would continue publishing due to lack of funding, but I think there are about 10 back issues on newsprint or .pdf. It’s an old-media newspaper about the arts in the Twin Cities. See http://www.artreviewandpreview.org/

  • Gregg Reed says:

    Social networking is an innovative approach to using the world-wide-web, and it is another feature that promotes the world-wide-web now. I’ve found that the social networks are not as innovative as the networking. You can network with students from your college days, co-workers from your company, and professional colleagues. These networks are too old and intransient for me professionally and artistically. My network affilations really lean toward international affiliations and with state-of-the-art innovators around the world.

  • Gregg Reed says:

    I have developed an area of internet social networking that I’m surprised the social networking sites have not adopted, family networks. At the end of the 1990’s I could see that my mother’s and father’s relatives were aging, and I used Yahoo! groups to make two networks to inform the families of emergencies. Since I started many of the relatives have died “online,” but the inter-family chatting is continuing day and night even today.

  • jimmy longoria says:

    Technological change has always been with western society. It’s social and political control is what has evolved and caused the “pain”. Each “software development will have it’s effect-this decade it elected a Black man to run a white society. This effect is more relief than pain. But look to yourself and your place in society to see where the real shift in what is “culture” will occur. Also take into consideration what is happening right now in the “new media space”.

    Visit an apple store at 9:00 am-estimate the “age average” of the eager apple learners- a revolution is about to hit the “arts”- it is the “retiree”. It will their values and tastes that will drive the future of “digital journalism”. That and the emergence of the younger cohesive social and economic groups.

    Caution to all of you mid career crash victims-careful of the “fences you have built” you may have fenced yourselves out.

    coyote global