Chances are you’ve seen this. If you say you haven’t, chances are you are living under a rock. It seems most of us in the journalism world have seen John Oliver’s 19-minute rant on the state of the news business and what it means to cities, the nation and the world. It’s been shared countless times on Facebook, tweeted incessantly and emailed from journalist to journalist all week long in lieu of doing actual journalism.
If you haven’t seen it, you must. Go ahead and click on the video. I’ll wait…
OK, little if anything in Oliver’s monologue decorated with funny video clips will surprise anyone in our business. The technological landscape has changed. People get their news and rumors on their phones and iPads. Some of the charlatans who came crawling over the bow of our listing ships have turned out to be jackasses. Not only did we give up the means of production and distribution, but we compounded that by giving away our product. You know, the way NO ONE ELSE DOES!
Consequently, our readers have suffered what media critic Ken Doctor calls “a loss in local news muscle memory.” Our readers have gotten out of the habit of spending time with us. Rebuilding that relationship has proven daunting, to say the least. …
Oliver does a terrific job of telling his viewers (they didn’t know this?) what is at stake in a world with ever-diminishing professional, local news outlets. Reporter-who-bailed-for-Hollywood-writing David Simon calls these halcyon days for government corruption. Fewer and fewer journalists are watching the hen house and even the politicians who don’t openly disdain us find ways around us, going right to their constituencies on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram.
I offer a couple thoughts in the wake of a TV segment that left me a bit blue:
Thank you. It feels good to hear someone like Oliver cares and can articulate the problem. He represents a smart, urbane, upwardly mobile 21st century audience of people who understand the value I see in journalism.
Yeah, but… Oliver was a little hard on people like Anne Vasquez, who was speaking on behalf of Tronc. That was funny when taken out of context, but let’s not paint as villains the journalists who are searching for a new, sustainable path. It really is time to rethink the word “news.” We really don’t get to decide what is important any more. Readers are telling us with their wandering eyes that much of our traditional stuff is not interesting enough. I am absolutely not saying we abandon civic journalism for cat videos. I’m suggesting we need to do civic journalism in new ways that likely do not involve covering every school board meeting and all community theater productions. As Oliver showed, the old business is foundering.
The people will ultimately get the news they deserve. That’s what Oliver said. If you demand free, you get what you pay for. It’s freeing to think that there is a degree to which the future of our business is out of our hands. It allows us to see with new eyes.
For my part, I’m going to chase my own bliss. This year has been one of revelation to me personally. I’ve found that if I’m interested, I create better work. I’m interested in re-inventing my own workplace. I’m interested in telling the kinds of stories that I would tell to friends around the bar. I’m interested in using new technologies and taking photos and working with people who are smarter than I am. I’m interested in leaving my legacy with writing that makes me proud. I’ll bet the things that make me happy are no less likely to make my customers happy.