Douglas Rushkoff writes of the perils of believing that everything journalistic can be handled effectively by well-meaning amateurs, for Harvard’s Nieman Reports:
First they came for the musicians, and I did not speak out—because I am not a musician. Then they came for the filmmakers, and I did not speak out—because I am not a filmmaker. Then they came for the journalists, and there was no one left to speak out for us.
In a media universe that for so many decades, even centuries, seemed stacked against the amateur, the Internet has made a revolutionary impact. Previously, the only law of physics that seemed to apply to the top-down, corporate-driven media space was that of gravity. King George II, William Randolph Hearst, or even Rupert Murdoch would decide what the public should believe and then print that version of reality. And inventions from the printing press to radio, which once seemed to be returning media to the people’s hands, were quickly monopolized by the powers that be. Renaissance kings burned unauthorized printing shops, and the Federal Communications Commission tilted the radio spectrum to corporate control. Our mainstream media seemed permanently biased toward those in power as well as toward whatever version of history they wished to record for posterity.
But at least at first glance the Internet seems to be different. It is a biased medium, to be sure, but biased to the amateur and to the immediate—as if to change some essential balance of power. Indeed, the Web so overwhelmingly tilts toward the immediate as to render notions of historicity and permanence obsolete. Even Google is rapidly converting to live search—a little list of not the most significant, but the most recent results for any query term. Likewise, our blog posts and tweets are increasingly biased not just toward brevity but immediacy—a constant flow, as if it is just humanity expressing itself.
And this notion of writing and thoughts just pouring out of us is also the premise for the new amateur journalism. It is nonprofessional in both intent and content—as close to what its writers believe is an unfiltered, pure gestalt of observation and self-expression. As if the time taken to actually reflect or consider is itself a drawback—or at the very least a disadvantage to whoever wants to be credited with starting a Twitter thread (as if anyone keeps track). Of course writing—whether considered or not—is most definitely never a direct feed from the heart or soul but rather the use of an abstract symbol system, highly processed by the brain and no more gestalt than solving a math equation.
The real difference between the Net and traditional writing is the barrier to entry…
[continues at Nieman Reports]