Journalism is Changing (And So are Your Underpants), And Commenters, Watch Out!


The Atlantic wraps its April issue in another tedious chin-scratcher assessing the quality of journalism is this here constantly shifting digital age in which we live in. Any story on this topic that can even begin, as this regrettably does, with taking seriously Ted Koppel's objectively insane nostalgia for an era where Americans got most of their news in half-hour televised bursts from just three sources that were all trying for the same bullshit "objectivity" loses points to begin with.

The story by James Fallows then slaloms into a long semi-profile of Gawker chief Nick Denton that isn't super relevant to either its setup or its conclusion, and then after much fashionable and mostly baseless worrying about the gross and ugly media world of today finally gets to a specific example that proves that the rest of the piece was pretty pointless:

Let's remember something we saw early this year. Television networks have been closing bureaus all around the world. Only a handful of U.S. news organizations even pretend to operate a global network of correspondents. Americans are famous for their ineptness in foreign languages. Ten years of military engagement in the Middle East has done little to increase U.S. sophistication about Islam or the Middle East.

Yet with all these reasons why the media should have failed, in fact they succeeded. A major event in world history was covered more quickly, with more nuance, involving a greater range of voices and critical perspectives, than would have been conceivable even a few years ago. Within hours of the first protests in Egypt, American and world audiences read dispatches from professional correspondents—on Web sites, rather than waiting until the next day, as they had to during the fall of the Berlin Wall. They saw TV news footage—including Al Jazeera's, which was carried by few U.S. broadcasters but was available on computers or mobile apps. Then the Twitter feeds from and about Egypt, the amateur YouTube videos from the streets, the commentary of contending analysts—all of it available as the story took place. We take this for granted, yet there has been nothing like it before. Even a year ago it would have been hard to imagine how thoroughly, and with what combination of media, voices, and judgments, an event in an Arab capital could have been witnessed around the world.

Yes, Mr. Fallows. Full stop: more voices, more sources, more access, more perspectives in news is better, and that's what the Internet age has given us, and that's good for consumers of news even if it gives Ted "Oldest Living Confederate Newsman Tells All" Koppel a coughing fit. To huff and puff toward that conclusion, as this story eventually does after the long aside on Denton that fills the piece but doesn't really inform it in an interesting way, is a waste of everyone's time. I read it so you don't have to.

But I really write about it just to poke at our beloved Hit and Run commenters with this observation from Mr. Denton of Gawker:

In the first New York profile, in 2007, Denton had said that an active "commenter" community was an important way to build an audience for a site. Now, he told me, he has concluded that courting commenters is a dead end. A site has to keep attracting new users—the omnipresent screens were recording the "new uniques" each story brought to the Gawker world—and an in-group of commenters might scare new visitors off. "People say it's all about 'engagement' and 'interaction,' but that's wrong," he said. "New visitors are a better indicator and predictor of future growth."

Matt Welch from 2002 on saving journalism from its would-be saviors.