Dec 11, 2008
Last night we attended The Pitch, hosted at this great lounge (Lucid on University Ave) by Jason Preston of eatsleeppublish.com, a blog dedicated to 'exploring and understanding the challenges (and no doubt opportunities) facing newspapers, books, and magazines as they strive to understand the new medium and find ways to support themselves in the digital age.' It might sound a bit dry, but if you're reading this right now, you probably get a lot of news online, too--so at some point this will affect you, if it hasn't already. Do you read the newspaper? Do you only get your news online? Is there a way for newspapers to catch up with technology? And is there a way to legitimize 'hyper local blogging' (new buzz term for me--and you all know how much I like buzz words), which is loosely translated as 'neighborhood reporting about the community'? I hope there's a way they can work together in the near future; they don't need to roast marshmallows and sing Kumbaya, but there has to be something more productive than thinking Us Vs. Them.
The Esq and I are working on a new neighborhood blog for the Ravenna/University District; we've signed on with Justin and Scott over at instivate.com. They run the Central District News, and the Capitol Hill Seattle blog, which are solid neighborhood blogs--as is Tracy Records' uber-popular community news organization, the West Seattle blog. We wanted to start something in our area, because while it's a great neighborhood, it's not quite a community. Ravenna needs to drink directly from the mouth of Madonna and reinvent itself now, while people are still complaining about Ballard yuppie overload; if we work this angle right, we could be the neighborhood people can't wait to complain about. What better way to inflate our community than cattle-prodding the people into involvement, and giving them access to a new way of connecting? If you could access information about your surrounding area, wouldn't you feel like it was more defined? Wouldn't it be useful to know where the Husky game detours are, or when the local artwalk is going on, what new restaurant just opened up down the street, or why 6,000 people are marching in front of your house? Having that information available at the touch of a button is what the big newspapers seem to struggle with; the format is completely different, and so is the culture and attitude. No matter what changes these large publications make, I highly doubt they'll take it upon themselves to redefine Ravenna--they'll just report from the area if something bad happens. I've always thought of a large newspaper as something that defines our world, our nation, and our city; a neighborhood blog should aim to define the neighborhood. There's plenty of media room for both.
The question in my mind is, who is going to be reading physical newspapers in a year?--in five years?--in ten? The people I know who would raise their hands are all over the age of 45, and that includes both of our parents. There's a sort of ritual about 'the paper': getting it, preparing your coffee or breakfast, getting comfortable, and sifting through loads of information that is either useful or useless to you. But as rituals go, it's not something my parents passed on to me--and isn't that how rituals end?
I saw an interesting parallel last night between the declining U.S. auto industry and the struggling national newspaper giants; even if (when) we bail out the car companies, it's only buying them a short stay of execution, not a lifetime pass. Our auto industry is so far behind in technology (and everything else--attitude towards the consumer, ideas and innovation, foresight, a business plan based in reality), there's NO WAY we can catch up. Those jobs might not be gone today, but they'll certainly go 'vamoose!' in a couple of years, when the industry is still working on bullshit technology that does nothing to save the consumer money. Will print media choose to stay victimized and blind, and go down the exact same path?
There's only so many times I can hear, 'Why is this happening? How do we stop it?' from my old-school journalist friends. Well, for one, it's happening because you're standing around asking pointless questions while other journalists are getting jobs with online papers, collaborating with others on website start-ups; people are re-branding themselves as community managers, political bloggers, or experts in something they excel at. And you're sitting here asking me how to stop it? The same way you keep Britney Spears from going batshit crazy: high doses of Lithium and a whole lot of money. But in lieu of prescription medication and a winning Lottery ticket, I'd say getting out of the problem and into a real-life solution is probably your best bet.
For newspapers, the time is NOW. Everyone is feeling the crunch of lay-offs, the uncertainty of journalism, the onslaught of online information; but if they're going to re-structure, they should do it quick. Businesses who thrive in an economic downturn usually take an old concept, pair it with a fresh idea, bring in the best technology, and call it a Prius--making a handout unnecessary. Online news might not be at the top of its' game yet, or even the best journalism around (thank you, Politico), but it's at the speed people want their information. Surely there's a way to combine forces--solid journalism, a vetting process, and large ad/sales departments with lightning-quick technology, the latest in social networking, and the best bloggers around--to make 'working together' a top priority. This blogger hopes so, because I refuse to give up the Sunday Comics, or my addiction to The Daily Dish . REFUSE.