freedom of expression

Over-entitled old-media graybeards

Looking at the thinning ranks around him, A.O. Scott, N.Y. Times movie writer, considers whether there is a future for criticism in the age of the Internet.

“Where once reasoned debate and knowledgeable evaluation flourished, there are now social networking and marketing algorithms and a nattering gaggle of bloggers.

Or — to turn the picture on its head — a remnant of over-entitled old-media graybeards are fighting a rear-guard action against the democratic forces of the Internet, clinging to threadbare cultural authority in the face of their own obsolescence. Everyone’s a critic! Or maybe no one is.”

Tony Scott may be uncertain which scenario fits but he feels the pain first hand because Disney gave final thumbs-down to At the Movies. That is the show he hosts with Michael Phillips, originated by Siskel and Ebert in 1975 as Sneak Previews.

We have our own set of old-media graybeards in British Columbia facing obsolescence. With the pending sale of Canwest Newspapers, many working there will be gone a year from now.  Three dailies in southwest BC will shrink, perhaps merge. A few of today’s political writers will stay active doing public relations for Norwegian fish farms, private power producers and the like but, for many, it will be a wrap. Radio and television are dumping staff even more aggressively and the Public Affairs Bureau (PAB) is fully staffed with loyal ex-journalists.

Be certain of this. The business of news gathering and distribution, as we have known it, is perishing and the end is near. Part of this outcome results from self-inflicted wounds.

Writing in the American Journalism Review, newspaper consultant John Morton refers to what he sees as a decline in the ‘standing’ of newspapers. By this, he means lost prevalence, respect, influence and relevance. To some degree, this arises from changed technology: Internet, social media, digital specialty programing, etc. But, not entirely.

Morton says concentration of ownership created an industry that put profits ahead of the old-fashioned obligation to be ‘a beacon of knowledge for as wide an area as possible.’ Bureaus were closed, reporters eliminated and local columnists and features replaced by syndicated materials. Self-censorship increased out of fear for offending business support. Standing with ordinary citizens declined; circulation plummeted.

While newspapers cut and squeezed and lost identity, sharing resources across their properties, the new media was rising. It was  delivering cheap, informal and focused information while facilitating feedback and dialogue.

Another critic says newspaper owners simply, “milked their cash cows, until the cows died.” So, what is the future of information sharing. Because you are reading this, you already know.

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