Old vs. New Media – Another Day, Another Controversy

9 Oct ’06

Perhaps one of the downsides of the meme aggregators, or of the ‘sphere generally, is that they create the impression that every day is awash in controversy. I’m inclined to agree with Paul Kedrosky that much of this is pointless nattering; sometimes it seems that much of what is said is the consequence of lives lived too much online – of too many people believing that too much of what happens to them is worth the world’s attention.

But on the other hand, these flashpoints often strike me as useful metaphors of the dynamics of a transition from an old to a new way of communicating. And this is how I think I’ll remember today’s controversy, Mike Arrington’s appearance on a panel at the Online News Association conference, an appearance at which sparks flew over the old media’s role in a new media world (or vice versa). Arrington blogs it here, and presents a portrait of a decent guy trying to help out who after just speaking out was set upon unfairly by the old guard and its apologists, essentially for simply levelling some controversial comments at The New York Times (and I’m parsing a little here). Others look at it differently, to say the least, including Staci Kramer (“Who’d have thought that Michael Arrington could make Jeff Jarvis and Mark Cuban seem calm”) and Jeff Jarvis (“uncomfortable, even embarrassing”), neither of whom can be fairly called an apologist for anything.

Jarvis notes that this comes after the end of a conference that marks the end of the media wars. He would know better than I, but from my perspective – and perhaps this is the Canadian in me talking – they’re just beginning, and so this is how I frame today’s mini-controversy. The new media is feeling brash, muscular, confident and optimistic – brash enough to mix it up on the old media’s home turf. The ‘tude is evident everywhere – a good example being Thomas Hawk’s trash talk of The New York Times’ irrelevance, though in this case the noise may be little more than covering fire for Arrington’s exit from the battlefield.

(For my part, I don’t really get the NYT trash talk thing – whether it’s from Arrington, Hawk or anyone else. It’s still just about my first choice for credible, balanced news, and there is almost no one in the ‘sphere who can hold my interest with the quality of their writing and the common sense of their perspective the way many of the Times’s writers can. Indeed, we’re coming off of a weekend in which the main buzz has been Google’s interest in YouTube, and most of what I’ve read in the last few days from the ‘sphere on that topic has been meandering, pointless, fanboy rubbish. And a real waste of an opportunity for some of the bright lights inthe ‘sphere on this topic to really dig in and brain dump.)

The industry is changing and remarkable times lie ahead of us. This ONA dust-up strikes me as a sign that we are early days yet in learning how the old and the new are going to fit together.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Leigh December 12, 2006 at 13:21

The NYT will never die.
At least not on Sunday.

Crosswordpuzzle anyone?

Reply

Rob Hyndman October 9, 2006 at 19:07

Hi Thomas – I’m certainly not quarreling with your right to say whatever you want about whomever you want to say it about. It’s a conversation, not a lecture, after all. I just disagree, is all. Not about the NYT not being as up as Engadget, for example, on the latest gadget porn. No surprise there. But that’s not why I read the NYT, and I suspect it’s not why almost anyone reads it. (And I doubt that’s much a change from P.B. (pre-blogs).) And it wasn’t really what Arrington was talking about.

I was riffing off of your diss on the MSM and the NYT:

“Personally I find most of mainstream journalism pretty boring these days. I don’t read newspapers anymore except online. Newspapers largely print about crap that I’m not interested in. That’s not relevant to me. They print things about sports and politics and manufacturing in Taiwan and some guy named Dennis Hastert that I could care less about.

..

But it’s not just tech news. If I want an awesome calendar of events do I go to SFGate to just see the same old boring things listed over and over again? No. I go to upcoming.org or Scott Beale’s Squid List.

If you want to buy something you go to eBay or Craigslist not the paper anymore. I’m right on this right?

Don’t get me wrong. Occasionally the New York Times actually has some interesting journalism. Their piece, “Through His Webcam, a Boy Joins a Sordid Online World” that made the rounds a while back was one of most strongest pieces of investigative journalism I think I’ve ever read.”

In there you made a comment specifically about NYT and tech. OK, but Arrington’s point at ONA was the broader point, yes? Your observations about that were what I was riffing off of.

And I like Engadget and TechCrunch / CrunchGear – it’s just that what they cover occupies about 3 minutes a day of my thinking time, while the NYT, WaPo and etc. – well, much more than 3.

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Rob Hyndman October 9, 2006 at 18:59

Thanks, Ugly. I don’t think I called them objective, actually. I’m pretty comfortable that I have a good handle on their editorial slant, though I don’t think it really comes into play for much of what I read them for, frankly. I think you one be reasonably balanced without being objective; which is a good thing, because I think objectivity is essentially a fiction – in judges, journalists, and everyone else, for that matter. But I do think that many journalists, and those of NYT more than most, are disciplined and professional at what they do. I’ll just have to disagree with you on whether they have a ‘quality product’, as you put it. I certainly haven’t seen much that matches its quality for writing, nor its ability to deliver breadth and depth across a wide variety of areas of coverage.

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Rob Hyndman October 9, 2006 at 18:49

Joseph – quite right, and being in the middle on that adaptation is facsinating. The ebb and flow is almost mesmerizing, and I’m convinced we are still at the earliest stages. I suspect that the current forms of old and new will look very, very different in 10 years. Thanks for the comment.

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The Ugly American October 9, 2006 at 15:37

Sorry to have to disagree with you on my first comment Rob. This was my first trip to your blog and I enjoyed your take on the arrington dust up. read your about section and you seem like a nice enough guy, however the NYT is far from an objective newspaper.

Their reporting is rarely what I would consider a quality product. The basic who what why and where of journalism are often an after thought at the NYT as with most other newspapers today.

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Joseph Thornley October 9, 2006 at 14:02

Rob,

I think that the “demise of mainstream media” meme is overstatement that says more about the perspective of the tech-based commentators than it does about the real future of MSM.

Yes, the emergence of the new social media and citizen generated content are wreaking tremendous change. And advertisers are moving from the old to the new. And the makeup of audiences for MSM is changing.

But, if history has taught us anything, it is that the old media do not meet their demise in the face of the new. They adapt and change. Witness radio and movies with the introduction of television. Both are still around. Both are dramatically different than they were prior to the advent of television.

Newspapers will survive. And you have identified one good reason. The NYT (and newspapers like the Globe and Mail) are essential to the mix of media. They are considered authoritative for a reason. Strong, known editorial standards. They break news. And they distribute it to a mass audience. The challenge for them is a business challenge. How to develop a new value proposition for advertisers.

When I think back to the MESH panel with the reps of the Star and the Globe, I saw why newspapers will change and find their new purpose in the social media world. They are populated by smart, creative people who believe in their medium and will ensure its survival.

Rob, thanks for the great post.

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Thomas Hawk October 9, 2006 at 10:33

Hey Rob,

The comments I made about the New York Times speak to the relevance that it has in covering tech these days.

I linked to a recent article from the New York Times covering Microsoft’s new Zune player. The article is fluff, with very little new information and nothing really meaty at all. What’s more there is no opportunity for feedback.

Contrast this with Engadget’s coverage *three months earlier* with lots of meat and over seven pages of reader comments and I think you get the point. Likewise contrast the delivery of this rather weak tech article from the Times with an actual video interview with the Zune team that Scoble filmed last week and is due out shortly and hopefully you can see my point.

Obviously the New York Times is relevant to some people but it’s not relevant to me. And since it’s my blog I get to say that, even if legitimately pointing out how weak their article is vs. other coverage in the blogosphere makes it trash talk.

I used to have an RSS subsciption to the New York Times Tech News. It got relegated to a folder in my RSS reader that I hardly ever check anymore. That’s just the way the it is for me at least and what Mike wrote resonated a lot with me. If I want it fast I go to digg. If I want it with actual meat I’ll go to Engadget. If I want the niche that is not covered by the Times I’ll read it in TechCrunch. If I want to hear it from the company themselves I’ll listen to a podcast or catch a Scoble interview or whatever.

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