When Modern Media Meets Legacy Media

I’d like to thank Houston Chronicle editors Dwight Silverman and Will Radcliff for inviting me and a bunch of other featured bloggers to observe the editorial process at The Chron and also for some pizza and a bull session afterwards.

You can see who all attended at John Kuglar’s page.

Back in college, I worked in a magazine’s editorial department and the process, though, weekly, and in some cases monthly, was the same. What occurred to me as I listened to editors hash out stories was how differently I take in news in this digital age.

My newspaper of choice 20 years ago was the Wall Street Journal. It still is my newspaper of choice. I just read it online. [I get my local information through the Chron.com]

Other than that, though, nothing else is the same. Most news hitting the paper is days or weeks old. That may not seem like a big deal, but for me, a news and political junkie, it is a big deal. I don’t watch televised news anymore–it’s too personality, rather than fact-based. I don’t read newspapers–it’s stuff I’ve already read and mostly news that does not interest me.

For example, while individual murders happen, they don’t affect me unless they are part of a bigger problem that could affect me–like the Mexican gangs drug wars going on here in Houson or a serial rapist or a bank robber (we’ve had a bunch around my home recently). That’s news I can use. Murders in Pearland are terrible, but it’s just bad information I don’t need to know.

The newspaper gives me news I need and don’t need. On line, I can find what I need. Plus, I can find editorial writers that I like from all over the country and world who may not be syndicated in my local paper.

My relationship to the news has changed fundamentally and I’m guessing yours has, too. And I’m part of the change. I blog from home. I write for a couple online publications. And I’ve done TV for both the BBC in NY and from a “studio”, i.e. my iMac, in my home. That’s how the media has changed. A producer from Scotland, England, or LA can contact me based on my web work. An editor from Israel can ask me to write (my editor at an online magazine works for a US based company but lives in Israel.)

That’s how media has changed.

The Houston Chronicle is one of the best dailies in the country–both editorially and financially. Still, they’re conducting lay-offs in the coming weeks.

I have mixed emotions about the demise of print newspapers, though I surely believe that is coming. What newspapers have is a cadre of investigative reporters doing ground work who have relationships with police, local people, etc. That’s tough to duplicate without money.

But individual reporters, self-funded, have been popping up. The best war reporting from Iraq wasn’t conducted by any newspaper but by independent journalist Michael Yon. Nuanced stories, richly written, with a plethora of juicy details not shared in most major media outlets simply because of space, Yon wrote humanely and accurately in a very difficult situation. As a former military guy, he had great access and understood the context. [He has a must-read piece about The New York Time’s reporter David Rohde kidnapped in Afghanistan. Did you know a NYT reporter has been kidnapped? Have you heard about it in the press? No, you haven’t. This is a big story.]

More than that, with the immediacy of video and services like Twitter [follow me, @MelissaTweets], people will be reporters. They will take pictures, say what is happening…common people will be the stringers and local people or people across the world will take that information off the “wire” and write about it. Right now, I watch C-SPAN, I watch feeds of the debates and I report and interpret with a clearly revealed bias. People know I come from a conservative-libertarian bent and they filter my information with that knowledge.

Watching the editorial process I felt a little sad. All the decisions I make at my blog every day–what to write about, what’s worthy of printing, what’s news, what isn’t–were made by a team of people for a form of media that is slowly dying.

Still, the online Chronicle, the place I’m writing right here, really is the future. The Chron has paid bloggers (who are very good), but the future is you and me. Citizen-journalists will report and interpret the news and democratically deciding what’s worth reading or not.

Times, they are a-changin’.

Addendum: Something else struck me. Many stories that continue to be hashed out online, get very little play editorially. For example, people on both the right and the left have been discussing the competency of President Barack Obama. And while that’s news for the editorial page of a newspaper, it’s “front page news” online. In addition, big, important pieces of legislation that are being hammered around in the Senate and that have huge impact on southern states like Texas might make the business page, if at all.

More than that, online, the topic can be hammered and delved into in a detailed way. This makes for people who are very informed. So I think there is a lop-sidedness now, in the modern world that didn’t exist in the 50s. People who take their news in from radio or TV or the front page of the paper can be woefully uninformed….or rather, they’re informed, but superficially and on topics the power-brokers and idea-makers don’t pay attention to.

Those who use modern media read what doctors are saying about health care reform, what lawyers are saying about a supreme court decision, what mechanics are saying about cars, what cooks are saying about food, and what politicians themselves are saying about the legislation before them (follow your Congressman on Twitter, there’s a good chance he or she is there). That makes for a differently informed news participant.

Because people tend to inform themselves on what they like, those immersed in the Modern Media may miss some of the broad news strokes. On the other hand, when I had little time to read the paper, I read the front page, the cartoons, and the editorial page. I was missing way more than I feel like I miss now.

For those who still exclusively get their news through the paper, I think the danger is believing that you have all the information. People, like drivers, believe they’re more informed than their neighbor. As I have gotten deeper into the news, what’s concerned me is not the news I know–it’s all the information that’s out there that isn’t shared.

It’s what we don’t know in this deluge of information that can hurt us.

Cross-posted at MelissaClouthier.com and Chron.com

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