A lot of journalists are crying lately. They’re upset that they don’t have jobs anymore as they believe that they were entitled to those jobs for ever and a day. Experienced and prescient journalists who long ago made the transition to the internet have gone on record telling them to FOAD.
It’s all been rather interesting reading but today I received an article on my linkedin feed from a gentlemen called Walter Isaacson. The title of his piece is ‘These are the two original sins of the internet – And now it’s time to fix them’. The piece is as long and unwieldy as its title. Straight away my bullshit detector went into overdrive and I decided to read it through.
First we have an extremely long-winded diatribe concerning how wonderful paper is and how if the internet came first paper would have seemed just awesome, (this based on the spurious fact that Steve Jobs couldn’t find emails he had sent in the 1990s – I suppose all the early print runs from the first printing presses are just lying around too).
After wading through all of this we get to the bread and butter. What do you think his first fix to the broken internet would be? Why it’s eliminate anonymity of course! Which is hilarious considering he’s just spent a few paragraphs talking about how the flow of information helps bring down totalitarian regimes. According to Isaacson,
“… I was talking to Madeline Conway, who’s been the managing editor of the Harvard Crimson. She said she spends her days trying to keep anonymous quotes out of news stories, then spends the evening reading the anonymous postings in the comments section, which are frightening …”
The horror! Actually discovering what your readers think about your worthless prose!
“… Internet anonymity is one of many reasons that civility has been drained from our public dialogue. In fact, we have a leading presidential contender who seems like the embodiment of an online comments section …”
So based on this we would have to assume that presidential campaigns in the 19th century were all lilacs and roses of beautiful discourse. Actually, they make Trump look like an angel in comparison. It wasn’t even hard for me to find that.
So first argument swatted away, I wonder what he has for his second huge flaw of the internet?
“… The other original sin of the Internet was that most journalistic organizations made their content free when they put it online, and they thought they could survive on advertising revenue alone …”
Apparently if your business model sucks its the internet’s fault. But it gets better.
“… But it was worse than just being an economic problem. It meant that we were no longer directly beholden to our readers.
Henry Luce, a co-founder of Time in 1923, said that a business model for journalism that was solely reliant on advertising revenue was not only morally abhorrent but also economically self-defeating …”
The truly amazing thing here is the assumption that media organizations were ever beholden to their readers in the first place. They weren’t. As McCain writes in the link I quoted above,
“… The fact that advertising ultimately paid the bills — the source of revenue, whereas the salaries of the newsroom staff were an expense — was an aspect of journalism that a lot of Good for Democracy types never really figured out …”
Well they still haven’t figured it out. But to write that relying on advertising revenue is morally abhorrent when you spent your entire professional career relying on it is either an outright lie or the indication that Walter Isaacson is the stupidest person in the world to have ever been a CEO.
What old journalists like Isaacson hate and what he didn’t mention in his puff piece is the fact that they had a controlled monopoly on advertising back in the day. The reason that their internet media business model failed is because anyone could stick ads on the internet if they wanted to, and they did. But I’ve saved his best quote for last.
“… Journalism isn’t broken. What’s broken is the business model for journalism …”
That means that journalism is broken, you idiot, unless journalists now want to work for free. This guy, believe it or not, was the editor of TIME and the CEO of CNN. If you’re wondering why those two companies have gone down the proverbial toilet, then Walter Isaacson is the living embodiment.
Returning to the title of his article, apparently now it’s time to fix these ‘problems’. I wonder how he’s going to do that? Well, that part seems to have been forgotten as he offers no remedies apart from,
“… But it’ll be up to those in journalism today to rectify some of the mistakes made by people in my generation …”
What, you mean these ones that just went on strike because they’re losing their jobs?