Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Will on-line newspapers adopt TV news values?

I took my “Mass Media and Society” class to The Oregonian and Willamette Week last night and came away more certain than ever that newspapers are in their death throes. Sure, we heard a lot of brave words about the future, but when the editors we talked to got down to specifics you could tell the ground was shaking beneath their feet — and that they had only vague ideas about what to do about it.

Convergence to screens like the ones we are staring at means that we’ll be seeing more and more video on “newspaper” web sites. In other words, newspapers will evolve into TV news programs. More and more news decisions will be driven by the demands of video’s moving, mesmerizing images. We will have less explanation and analysis and more touching, emotive “scenes” and “moments.”

The appeal will be to feelings, not thought. To haphazard, disconnected impressions, not linear, logical reasoning.

Technology is in the driver’s seat, and I for one don’t want to go where it is taking us.

The other concern at the newspapers is that the era of presses as money-making machines is over. No lucrative replacement is anywhere in sight. The Internet produces a small fraction of the revenue print did for papers. And so the forced transition of newspapers to the internet has meant smaller staffs, smaller papers, reporting on the cheap (read, crime news) and fluff.

There is no end in sight.

As I sat in its big news conference room, I imagined the hulking Oregonian building on SW Broadway housing neat insurance companies or law offices. Out with cluttered journalists’ cubicles.

As I see it, the best we can hope for are little networks and co-operatives of quasi-independent journalists who band together to market themselves and to build reputations for accuracy, fairness and compelling writing. But even they will have to compete on, and succumb to, screen images that purport to inform.

Old newspapers (and books and magazines) will be collected like typewriters, slide rules and “film” cameras.

The last print journalism to go will be the small, so-called “niche” publications. Many of them will be (and are) little more than advertising vehicles.

Then they too will give way to portable reading devices, whose photo reproductions will match, or exceed, those of the glossiest magazine. More than that, their photos will be (and are) moving pictures. Vanity Fair, Wired and The New Yorker can never match that capability within the confines of the printed page.

Finally, as the ways we are informed rapidly evolve, we, as sentient beings, will be changed. Note that we will not choose to change. The media environment will literally change us in how we relate to each other, how we make judgments, how our children learn and come of age, how we act and react, how we form our values, how we confront the future.

The speed of the change will be measured in a handful of years, perhaps even months. What took a century before, may take, at most, a decade. (Try to remember where we were in 1998.) In a single lifetime, a person will experience four or five generations remarkably dissimilar, almost alien one to another.

And above it all will be inexorable technological change whose far-flung, independent engineers and scientists will continue to be blind to, and seemingly unconcerned about, their inventions’ consequences to humanity and the planet.

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Blogger Coach said...

Well, yes, we have been headed towards a paperless society for several decades now.

And yes, I no longer need print media on a daily basis, but at this point in time, I still enjoy a good news magazine when I'm in the water closet of in bed. This is where I get some of my indepth analysis.

However, you paint a rather bleak view of the future. Do you not think that thought leaders will rise up and help the lemmings sort through the wheat and chaff?

2:53 AM  
Blogger Rick Seifert said...

Thanks for the comment! My main point is that we are turning the internet into a "picture" medium, not a "word" medium. If the dominant medium communicates through "pictures" (video) then the appeal will be to emotion, not reason. Our leaders, in order to communicate, will make emotional appeals. Look no farther than political advertising. Do voters vote with their minds or their emotions? The result is that we have fewer and fewer "thought leaders" and more and more "emotion leaders."

8:52 AM  
Blogger Coach said...

Yes, I understand and see there is real danger in that. Some lament that direction in their churches too. But others say that faith is more than mere "information." As a member of the Friends, I think you understand that.

I wonder, if in a modernist society, news was about information and we left out the emotional content? It's one thing to know that 3000+ US troops have been killed in Iraq. It's quite another thing all together to see the images of the disintegrated bodies lying beside the road. Which would stop this bastardized war sooner?

As one who worked in Portland EMS for 20 years, it is the images in my head that led me to fight for mandatory seatbelts, and other preventive, lifesaving measures.

Indeed, hasn't it been shown that a picture is indeed worth somewhere around a 1000 words (give or take some)? It's one reason I add photos to my blog (daddytude dot com) and to my Powerpoint presentations.

At this point, I'm really not trying to argue with you (really!) But see this as a great opportunity to have a discussion with someone who knows more than I do about the subject.


BTW, I love the theme of your blog! My mother grew up riding the streetcars of PDX - over on SE Hawthorne. As a 5th gen Portlander - I love the nostalgic loyalty of longtime PDXers.

Indeed, I've often lamented the loss of the pre-industrial era of transportation. If one could catch up on a streetcar, imagine an all-day walking trip from Hillsdale to Multnomah Village and back? I wonder how many people one would be able to converse with?

I wonder if the busyness in our lives has is the real cause of social-brokenness.

12:22 PM  
Blogger Rick Seifert said...

Gary, I've taken the liberty of linking to your blog,, on The Red Electric. You share a lot of practical wisdom and self-effacing humility about daily family life. I could have used both when I was a young, single father.

I don't pretend to have any special understanding of how pictures work. I do know that all media can be used for good and bad ends, and "good" and "bad" are often in the eye of the beholder. I do believe that we need to consider the consequences of what we say (and depict). Images (like words) are easily manipulated. When the profit motive drives the message more than personal and social consequences, we have a problem.

As a former EMS, are you familiar with "Trauma Nurses Talk Tough"? It sounds as though you might even have been involved with their work.

Again, thanks for your thoughtful comments.

6:31 PM  
Blogger Coach said...

I'm honored that you would add my link. Thanks! I've only recently been inspired to write about family issues; since doing that my readership has gone through the roof (almost :)

I agree that the times ahead will be challenging. It will take thought leaders with pure motives to lead us through those times.

I am aware of the Trauma Nurse Talk Tough. I worked at Emanuel, as a Life Flight paramedic for a time and I served on some trauma system committees with many of the people who were making that happen. Unfortunately, as paramedics, in a relatively new field, we lacked the organizational maturity to put together our own outreach.

Keep sharing your thoughts! I like the way you write!

6:53 AM  

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