If Print Is Dead, Why Quote It Online?

The gist of this entire blog is my belief that old media and new media are neither clashing nor colliding, nor that new media will soon replace print. They need to meet, especially since most of the material found online is still either a rehashing of what’s been published in print, a commentary on something that was first written for print media, or an “online exclusive” by an old school journalist, who has discovered the wide world behind the newsroom, and then, ahem, social media, and now applies long-established, tried and true old media work ethics online. First those old media folks laughed uneasily about Twitter, now they don’t miss a beat with their tweets. And that is as it should be.

But take away print publications entirely — and with it (albeit shrinking budgets) their readiness to uncover and investigate hard news, to dispatch correspondents abroad and to cover the government branches and the judiciary tirelessly — the information out there on the web would be much shallower and much less.

Most of what’s been blogged about is heavily backed up by extensive links to print articles (as it should be). Take those away and you’ll feel a void. Old media help new media generate content. Nothing bad about that.

But don’t argue that print is dead.

“To take an analogy from renewable energy sources vis-a-vis fossil fuels, citizen journalism can only do so much to meet our entire information needs as a free society. Finding the right mix will be the challenge of the next decade,” read a post on the “New Media” Blog under the headline “Breaking News! New Media Depends On Old Media” a while back. And further, “If new media kill vast swathes of old media publications, our society may find itself at least temporarily unable to get the information it needs to make informed decisions. Even if plenty of new media news sites rise in the wake of the defeated publications, it is difficult to see how genuine sources of hard investigative journalism will replace the old paid models.”

A study released in the beginning of the year by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, “How News Happens — Still,” offered support for the argument often made by the traditional media “that, so far, most of what digital news outlets offer is repetition and commentary, not new information” (see above graphic). This flow of media sources, the evolution of a news report, how information spreads and who among the media outlets — old and new — set the agenda, can be visualized using Media Cloud, an interactive, user-customizable database launched by the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard.

The same concept is used by Cornell Universities MemeTracker.

New York Magazine published last October a lengthy article “Where News Comes From — Walking Back a Single Day’s Top Stories” by Jeff VanDam that featured a 4-pages long info graphic (Part I and Part II) with a time line on how seven stories traveled from source to source, from print to web and back again.

Nothing more to add, but this compilation is truly fascinating: According to the Technorati Attention Index, the most frequently used sources for bloggers as well as Google News are mainstream newspapers, and traditional news organizations like the Associated Press, the New York Times (rank 1 last year), The Guardian (2) and the Wall Street Journal(3).

More on the ratings can be found at NewsKnife, a website that rates the top sources for Google News in any given month.

And yet, these sources have been shrinking fast, and one can argue that the web is giving them new life — again, collaboration and not collision (click to enlarge graphic; data from 2008 by mint):

More On Our Brains Online

Continuing my previous post, Your Brain Online, I need to mention Jaron Lanier’s book You Are Not A Gadget as well. Lanier, a computer scientist and expert in virtual reality, has written a manifesto equating the Internet with drugs and online bingeing, urging the need for self-restraint. He analyzes the web’s effects on society in general and concludes that the damage has already been done to our creative freedom and our creative ownership:

“The problem is not inherent in the Internet or the Web. Deterioration only began around the turn of the century with the rise of so-called “Web 2.0″ designs. These designs valued the information content of the web over individuals. It became fashionable to aggregate the expressions of people into dehumanized data. […] Here’s just one problem: It screws the middle class. Only the aggregator (like Google) gets rich, while the actual producers of content get poor. This is why newspapers are dying. […] [T]he Internet has become anti-intellectual because Web 2.0 collectivism has killed the individual voice.”

For more, read Lanier’s compilation of web resources related to his thesis and his article in the Wall Street Journal World Wide Mush (Jan. 8).

Your Brain Online

Long post. But maybe by reading this, you can refute a thesis that the Internet has altered our brains. Maybe. Keep reading, even though there are no bullet points.

A June 11 op-ed by Steven Pinker, “Mind Over Mass Media,” in the New York Times stated the following:

“[…] Knowledge is increasing exponentially […] Fortunately, the Internet and information technologies are helping us manage, search and retrieve our collective intellectual output at different scales, from Twitter and previews to e-books and online encyclopedias. Far from making us stupid, these technologies are the only things that will keep us smart.”

Then, Nicholas Carr’s published a blog post with his sharp rebuttal of Pinker’s thesis:

“The fact that people who fiddle with cell phones drive poorly shouldn’t make us less concerned about the cognitive effects of media distractions; it should make us more concerned. […] I have little doubt that Steven Pinker will one day write a cogent, thoughtful, and balanced critique of Internet skepticism. I look forward to reading it.”

Carr, by the way, is the author of The Shallows, which was reviewed in the NYTimes Magazine on June 6 under the headline “Our Cluttered Minds”.
The review ended with these words:

“While Carr tries to ground his argument in the details of modern neuroscience, his most powerful points have nothing do with our plastic cortex. Instead, The Shallows is most successful when Carr sticks to cultural criticism, as he documents the losses that accompany the arrival of new technologies. Or maybe even these worries are mistaken; it can be hard to predict the future through the haze of nostalgia. In 1916, T. S. Eliot wrote to a friend about his recent experiments with composing poetry on the typewriter. The machine “makes for lucidity,” he said, “but I am not sure that it encourages subtlety.” A few years later, Eliot presented Ezra Pound with a first draft of “The Waste Land.” Some of it had been composed on the typewriter.”

The Times also published an interview with Carr, and Wired Magazine printed in its June issue an excerpt from Carr’s book, introducing the article with these words: “The riot of information from the Internet shatters our focus and rewires our brain.” Carr writes in his book:

“When we go online, we enter an environment that promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning. Even as the Internet grants us easy access to vast amounts of information, it is turning us into shallower thinkers, literally changing the structure of our brain. […] The Internet is an interruption system. It seizes our attention only to scramble it. […] The ability to scan and browse is as important as the ability to read deeply and think attentively. The problem is that skimming is becoming our dominant mode of thought. Once a means to an end, a way to identify information for further study, it’s becoming an end in itself — our preferred method of both learning and analysis.”

I mostly agree with Carr. Strictly speaking from personal experience of course, being online and available all the time frequently means many wasted hours — and I exclude working on this blog. The more I read, the less I take in. To quote T.S. Eliot, “Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”

No scientific data to back me up really, but I know best what the Internet has or has not done to my mind. Anyone who has put his/her keys in the freezer because the Blackberry chirped relentlessly must recognize this feeling.

Rudolf ArnheimI counter Pinker’s notion that we all are “getting smarter” because of the web — social and world-wide and any other kind — with this quote written in 1930 by Rudolf Arnheim, a German author, art- and film theorist and perceptual psychologist, who wrote about mass media in the early 1930s (pictured): “Human beings will come to confuse the world perceived by their senses and the world interpreted by thought. They will believe that seeing is understanding.”

I think he was on to something.

Already back in January, before the Carr/NYTimes face-off, an article in Newsweek had quoted studies that deflated the idea that the Internet was changing our brain (“Your Brain Online”). The article featured an introduction with an account of what we perceive the Internet to be doing to our brain: “Shortened attention span. Less interest in reflection and introspection. Inability to engage in in-depth thought. Fragmented, distracted thinking.” But it still somehow came to the conclusion that “the ways the Internet supposedly affects thought are as apocalyptic as they are speculative, since all the above are supported by anecdote, not empirical data.”

In a very, very, very long article in The Atlantic, Carr had asked “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” The short answer should have been “no”. Because stressing that readers skim and not read and that they are too wired to absorb, dismisses the fact that The Atlantic and its readers are living proof that the opposite can be true as well. These people like to read. And they presumably go online as well. It seems on that platform, he was preaching to the wrong crowd.

The effect of the Internet can not be explained in black or white. Still, Carr’s words of caution have merit: “As we come to rely on computers to mediate our understanding of the world, it is our own intelligence that flattens into artificial intelligence.”

Then again, Arnheim was already prescient enough to know this in 1930.

(You might be interested in checking out this website: EDGE by the Edge Foundation that has many takes by scientists and scholars on the topic and revisits the question annually.)

All Google’s Fault…

This is long, but hey, it’s from The Atlantic. Better print it and read… The old-fashioned way, I suppose. Less eye-strain.This proves that a print piece as is doesn’t really belong on the web, right? Or does it? You be the judge.

“How to Save the News” (…and it’s all Goggle’s fault!): How to Save the News – Magazine – The Atlantic

Are Apple Products “Rotting Our Brains”?

“President Obama has said that devices like Apple’s iPad are rotting our brains. He’s right,” argues Daniel Lyons in Newsweek (…which, by the way, and maybe not coincidentally, was just put up for sale. Maybe out brains really can’t process authoritative weeklies any longer?).

The president believes, “information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment, rather than a tool of empowerment, rather than the means of  emancipation.” Lyons continues:

Oh, but we’re very, very busy zombies. We’re reading e-mail. We’re tweeting and retweeting. We’re downloading apps, and uploading photos. We’re updating our Facebook status and reading our news feeds and telling the whole world what we like and don’t like, because for some reason we imagine that the whole world actually cares. You know what we’re not doing? We’re not thinking. We’re processing. There’s a difference. […] No way. What’s happening is this: we are being so overwhelmed by the noise and junk zooming past us that we’re becoming immune to it. We’ve become a nation of Internet-powered imbeciles, with an ever-lower threshold for inanity. Beck and Palin are the inevitable outcome of that devolution. They are what we deserve. They are, in fact, what we’ve created.”

What do you think? See this blog post for my take on what technology does — or doesn’t do— to our brains.

Social Media. Now What?

“Social media are becoming part of journalism, another transmission system, that all journalism must be involved in, in much the same way that aggregation is now a component of journalism. Journalism is more than narrative now. It is more than storytelling. It always has been, but professional journalists didn’t always see it. Journalism is shifting from being a product…to being a service…how can I help you answer your questions.” Tom Rosenstiel on the Future of Journalism | Future of Journalism

I think this calls for sharing with you one of my favorite media cartoons of all times re YouTube comments. Enough said.

By the way, have you heard this new adjective, introduced in the June issue of Wired Magazine’s Jargon Watch:
“Word-of-finger, adj, Marketing communicated via the keystrokes of social media.” Makes sense.

And finally, a video: “What the Hell Is Social Media?”

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/v/QLd9q88ohUs&hl=en_US&fs=1&rel=0″ type=”application/x-shockwave-flash” allowscriptaccess=”always” allowfullscreen=”true” width=”640″ height=”385″>]

Bleak Future

“We are going to lose a horrifying amount of experience, judgment, talent and the culture of journalism which has, for the most part, made it a very ethical enterprise. Not only are we losing the accumulated judgment, wisdom, experience, knowledge of tens of thousands of journalists, we are losing their sense of how to stay relatively pure.” Bob Garfield on Future of Journalism | Future of Journalism

Hear, hear.

Where do we go from here, in our unstoppable march toward new journalism and communications 3.0? Become a “tradigital journalist.” Combine the traditional with the digital but apply the same ethical and professional standards. My two cents.

The iPad, A Media Savior?

The iPad has finally arrived! This sleek device with a bright, colorful and vivid display (but an unfortunate name that reminds me of adult diapers), has Apple enthusiasts saluting yet another shiny gadget and the blogosphere and social media buzzing with excitement.

Judging by the reactions of the media, the iPad will save the newspaper and magazine industries from sure demise with one stylish swoop, and with it book publishing and e-book distribution (Hachette, Penguin, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster and Macmillan already made deals with Apple.)

The British blog FirstPost nicely sums up this mood and warns: “No one is more excited about [the iPad] than publishing and print media companies. To them, the tablet represents a vision of the future that does not involve their extinction. […] The Devil’s bargain is that you have let Steve Jobs be the gatekeeper to your customer and price-fixer of your product.”


Newser reports that “unlike Google, Steve Jobs [who, according to the Wall Street Journal, envisions “new money in old media“] sees his mission as helping content providers repackage and sell their wares, rather than giving it away for free.”

Indeed, according to a post on Reflections of a Newsosaur, the new tablets (which the blog refers to as the “Swiss Army knife of media platforms”) have definitely “raised the bar for interactive content delivery. Unfortunately, most media companies already are late in developing editorial and advertising strategies to meet this new challenge.”

The new challenge is to entice users to actually pay for the content they consume. Yet a commenter to Newsosaur’s blog post dismisses this notion and surely represents a majority of readers: “A new uberhyperbolitron [sic] like the iPad won’t make one whit difference for old media. Embedding visual aids with text isn’t going to get somebody to pay for an online ‘newspaper’ when there’s a blogger who’ll gladly do the honor of analyzing news content.” For free, may I add.

That, precisely, is the point. Unless tablets provide a platform to charge consumers for all content, no shiny new device will make old/new media profitable. At least, until readers, who eagerly dished out good money for their gadgets, consider rewarding those who produce the content they so eagerly click through (or copy/paste into their own blogs).

Joshua Benton, writing for NiemanJournalismLab, shares this skepticism. “The iPad, as we know it today, doesn’t change any of the fundamental economics of news commerce. I didn’t see anything today that made me change my opinion that device-based dreams of a news deus ex machina are wishful thinking, and that the difficult revenue decisions will have to be made pan-platform.”

Nevertheless, at least three magazine publishers, Hearst, Conde Nast and Time, have already created mock ups of their magazines for the Apple tablet. The New York Times Company is working on a tablet version of its newspaper; others will follow.

But old media turned new via tablets still play an important function: helping consumers wade through, organize and prioritize the vast amount of information available online. We need to come up with a formula that addresses media-flow overload and information fatigue, caused by relentless, feverish “multitasking,” like reading a magazine on the iPad, writing a blog entry or comment on an iMac, texting or watching a YouTube video on the iPhone and listening to iTunes downloads on an iPod. (By the way, “multitasking” in my view is not reading and listening to music simultaneously, but reading and playing an instrument. But that is a separate post.)

Yes, tablets are the future of interactive media consumption. I want one, too. But I hope that the iPad will eventually do for written content what iTunes did for music: ensure that writers and editors will be rewarded for their work. Without us — the “content providers and developers” — even the nicest tablet will one day go dark.

This post also appeared in Aloud, a blog for New York Women in Communications.

“Cacophony of Today’s Media”

“…the cacophony of today’s media — in which rumor and invective often outpace truth-testing, in which shouting heads drown out sober reflection, in which it is possible for people to feel fully informed without ever encountering an opinion that contradicts their prejudices — plays some role in the polarizing of our politics…” (Bill Keller, New York Times.)

Do you agree?