You New Media Kids, Get Off My Lawn

Erin pointed me at Stephen Hume’s column in the Vancouver Sun from earlier in the week. With a certain “you kids get off my lawn” charm, Mr. Hume protests a little too much about the rise of new media:

Meanwhile, blogosphere chatter responds with gleefully patronizing pronouncements on how the “old media” are toast, about to join the pterodactyl. The “new media” leads the way to a promised land of free information and citizen journalism.

Permit a few observations from the tar pits. First, the old media are the new media. The Vancouver Sun’s website, for example, generated 10 million page views in February — more than 357,000 a day. Our blogs attract more than 500,000 page views per month and have become — let me quote from the boss’s last memo — “a vital tool to gather and distribute content.” And all these numbers trend upward.

In my experience, most thinking bloggers recognize the implicit value of the news media. We’re well past the gloating phase, and are interested in helping newspapers save themselves from their own lack of foresight. That’s why I enjoy reading Mathew Ingram and Scott Rosenberg, because they do a great job of analyzing the mainstream media’s troubles and, more importantly, they discuss solutions.

Mr. Hume also takes bloggers to task for hiding behind anonymity. This is a bit of a red herring. After all, pretty much every popular blogger identifies themselves. And Mr. Hume would do well to remember the value of anonymity for bloggers in countries like China or Iran. I wonder, does he think of them as ‘cowards’, too?

The Right Metrics

If the Vancouver Sun is the new media, then Mr. Hume ought to pick the right metrics on which to report. Nobody I know in new media uses “page views” when describing their site’s popularity. In my experience, an organization reports on page views when a) they’re not measuring their traffic accurately and b) they’re just choosing the number that sounds the biggest.

And if the Vancouver Sun is new media, why haven’t more of them come to Northern Voice? In five years, we’ve had, by my count, no more than one or two reporters out to the conference. And this is one of the biggest new media conferences on the west coast, in the Sun’s own backyard. Not to mention the fact that all Mr. Hume’s Editor-in-Chief is doing with her Twitter account is posting links to her own newspaper.

There’s plenty more to criticize in Mr. Hume’s piece. The notion, for example, that newspapers offer an “assurance of quality and public accountability” is highly dubious. But what frustrates me most about Mr. Hume’s column is the lack of proposed solutions. He offers a hagiography to journalists, but doesn’t have any suggestions for how the industry might right its floundering corporate ship. Maybe that’sin another blog post, or, rather, column? He should check out Scott and Mathew’s blogs. Not only are they journalists who play extremely well with the new media, but they’re thinking about answers.

UPDATE: In the comments, Lisa rightfully points out that I should have mention Sun deputy editor Kirk LaPointe, whose blog I read and enjoy. I’d also meant to mention the irony that while I can comment on the Sun’s news stories, I can’t comment on Mr. Hume’s editorial. It’s odd that I can’t provide feedback on the bloggiest of content.

UPDATE #2: Mike Davidson of Newsvine has written a nice piece about the demise of the print edition of the Seattle P-I: “Overall, I’m not super optimistic about the future of a lot of these newspaper companies, but I really would love to see them at least replaced with something better. I still have a hard time believing that a 146-year-old company like the Seattle P-I is moving out of their own building before we are.”

19 comments

  1. I wonder if Mr. Hume is fully aware that whitewashing all bloggers as anonymous propagandists might be a bit disconcerting for those respectable ‘old media’ journalists who are embracing new media, and doing it well. I like this post!

  2. Interesting analysis, Darren.

    I have my own biases on all this because (as you know) I’m employed by one of the other “rotting corpses,” to quote Samantha Bee.

    That said, I’d make two counter points.

    It’s not really fair to criticize the Sun for Patricia Graham’s Twittering without looking to Kirk LaPointe (@kirklapointe), the managing editor at the Sun. He engages in conversations, writes a blog that’s not just about his own paper’s stories, and is also interesting to follow. Not to mention the other (many) Sun reporters on Twitter, most notably @gillianshaw.

    I also agree with Stephen Hume on his fourth point — that news is expensive to gather.

    He writes: “If you believe individual citizens have the resources to generate the quantity and quality of news to which citizens of a functioning democracy are now accustomed, you are living in dreamland.”

    I get it that you’re not questioning the value of having a news media — but some are — or suggesting it could be done more cheaply online by cutting, say, printing costs.

    It’s my understanding that the big cost of producing news content is paying the people (like, er, me) who produce news content. And if that’s the cost cut to make it cheaper (@kdoctor estimates the Seattle P-I will keep 13% of its newsroom staff when it goes online) then I believe content will suffer.

    Solution? No. Just trying to add my POV, from the Corp(se).

  3. @lisa You’re absolutely right about Kirk–I knew I was forgetting somebody. I read his blog, and should have included him with Scott and Mathew.

    That said, the Sun staff are all very new to this stuff. I’ve been emailing Ms. Graham and Kirk for years about posts I’ve written concerning Sun articles. Have they (or the writers of the articles) ever come by to leave a comment? Nope. They have, on several occasions, replied to me privately.

    So I’m glad about the portion of the mainstream media that is starting to engage online. I feel that they took way too long to start. The webby future of the media has been writing on the wall for at least a decade.

  4. Great post.

    Stephen Reese, a fantastic local blogger on regional transportation issues, has a recent post that touches on why people lose touch with mainstream media in the context of citizen or blogger-based reporting: http://stephenrees.wordpress.com/2009/03/06/protestors-and-mainstream-media/

    The case that Stephen raises points more to philosophical and political bias, but there’s also the reality that all the news that someone might care for just can’t be provided by one source. The internet is in many ways a collection of niche interests mingling on a common pitch, and broadcast-era media is focussed on the ‘broad’ part of that model.

    I sometimes lament the idea of ‘citizen journalist’ as much as I do “citizen surgeon” or “citizen nuclear technician”, and journalism as a profession gets taken too much for granted. That said, there has been a clear erosion of trust in mainstream media, which Stephen doesn’t address by leaning on dubious circulation numbers to show relevance. The loss of audience to the internet is as much about convenience as it is about finding what we can’t be economically served via mainstream channels, and in realizing that mainstream channels were happy to make editorial decisions based on business or political goals.

  5. I’d say you raise some solid points. I think the biggest thing mainstream media don’t get about social media is that it is a conversation.

    Those who simply pimp products on Flickr, or look at Facebook as only a profit opportunity, or degrade blogging because it’s not real journalism have an unrealized bias.

    They are used to having their own platform as a monologue. Dialogue changes how things develop and where they go. I can’t say the CBC experiment with comments has been entirely to my liking but it can make for interesting reading.

  6. James – As someone who has moderated thousands of comments on the CBC website, I know what you mean.

    One of the big things trad. media has grappled with as it participates in social media is: our place or yours?

    There has been a desire on the part of CBC or others to keep it all on our own platform — comments on our site, calls to action on our site, send photos to our site. I’m not sure this was all about control. I think it was partly that we hadn’t thought of doing it another way. (And, the idea that, if it isn’t on our site, does it count?). Still, inviting people over can only work so far, and as you note, kinda misses the point.

    But, that’s changing. Journalists on twitter, Radio 3 (a leader in this from the media side, if anyone is) sourcing photos from a flickr group, etc. Meet your “audience” where they are, and where the useful app has already been made for you.

    p.s. if someone could help a sister out and tell me how to get a picture of me to display, that would be neat.

    1. I’d love to help a sister out on the photo front, but I actually have no idea how that works. And, you know, it’s my site. Anyone?

      I’ll check with Tzaddi, my trusty web designer.

  7. Good to hear I’m trusty 😉

    You got it, they are from Gravatar and based on the email address you put in your comment.

    Which reminds me, I’d mocked up a matching avatar for you in the redesign – lemme know if you want me to send it your way.

  8. Yeah, the icon thing pops up all over the place, particularly if you’ve set it up on wordpress.com and I think Automattic are trying to integrate it.

    As for the social media, your place or ours? Check out the skittles.com raging debate. They’ve really just started gluing together wikipedia and other social media together – seems to be something akin to social branding. Mind you, that’s really just candy product and not news.

    I’m at BCIT and I’ve worked on a couple projects experimenting with social media, and touching. whatwouldyouchange.ca allows people to create image depicting things they’d change and then share them. There’s some text messaging capabilities and videoblogging done by BCIT, but it’s still all about BCIT. I would leave it to you to judge how it works and whether it leverages the medium to full advantage.

    We’re also just wrapping up 3 Blog Nights as a student recruitment event, which does leverage Twitter and YouTube (for video hosting and a little viral help), but it still has people coming to the site or blog to interact to some degree as well.

    I think both of these are examples of feeling the need to be connecting with an audience using the tools, but is it doing it in a way that does so on the audience’s terms?

    Big institutions are right to experiment (traditional media and post-sec probably have more than you would think in common – age-old ways of doing things and slow to see curves coming) but doing it primarily on home turf still suggests an element of control that’s not always going to work.

    Darren: I didn’t know Tzaddi did your site. Did some contract work together a couple years ago, and used to work together at Telus.

  9. Companies measure and cite page views when that’s their model for charging advertisers (impressions by CPM).

    This also answers the question of why most media outlets want to host the content and attendant contributions (our place or yours?). Hosting generates page views. Page views pay.

  10. Darren, a little unintended synchronicity occurred when in the process of giving a shout out to other local bloggers I covered some of the same turf as your recent post.

    http://www.citycaucus.com/2009/03/can-a-facelift-save-the-vancouver-courier

    We interact continually with trad. media at our site, sharing story angles and facts directly with reporters. Hume may look at his relationship of “new” media as being much more holistic than competitive.

    My point still stands, it’s this medium that is shaking things up, not theirs.

  11. Darren you’ve also forgotten Gillian Shaw who is an active participant in social media, including Northern Voice and the recent Women in Film Festival. IMHO, The Sun and other Vancouver papers are doing a great job transitioning to the new media paradigms.

    1. I didn’t forget Gillian, she’s doing a good job. But how long has she been “an active participant in social media” for? The writing has been on the wall for this stuff for years, yet most newspapers (the Sun included) are rather late to the party, don’t you think?

      1. And, I should add, if the Sun is so hip to the social media groove, is it too much to ask that somebody from the newspaper comes by and contributes to the conversation?

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