«The web is bad for writers»
The Daily Mail explains why iCloud is not an actual cloud – via The Guardian
In the August issue of Wired US, dedicated to the “mobile revolution,” an article by Frank Rose was published, titled “How the Smartphone Ushered In a Golden Age of Journalism.” It analyzes many of the experiments and recent trends in mobile news, pointing out that this is the main field which is restarting an industry that seemed almost to have surrendered to extinction. From reports to listicles, mobile reading is no longer an uncomfortable, secondary activity. The article has provoked a debate that has led (again) to talk about the future of the profession and the positive and negative impact that the Internet and mobile technology have had on journalism. Andrew Leonard of Salon is sure that journalism somehow will manage to survive – the demand for news will always be high, and the market will always find an answer – but he does not know exactly how.
The pessimism comes from the professional status of those working in the field. What can be considered the ‘golden age’ for the reader – who can read and write everything, free of charge, anywhere and on any medium – does not seem to resemble the Eden for the sector operators. Few working and economic certainties (“The web is bad for writers,” summed up the Harper Magazine editor John MacArthur in The Times), unsure prospects and low longevity of the new projects are now normal. Even those recognized as successful models are likely to represent no more than an exception. According to Leonard, the Huffington Post needed to solicit crowdfunded donations to cover the story of Ferguson. NYT Now, a new app of the New York Times (which is not just a mobile version of the website, but a different way of conceiving the news stream), does not seem to meet expectations, adding only 32,000 new digital subscribers in the second quarter of 2014. We can continue to call it a slow-moving dinosaur, Leonard explains, but “I don’t know – a world in which the Times is struggling to survive does not sound like the golden age of journalism to me.”
“In my time, there was no clickbait”
David Sessions of PatrolMag echoes Leonard. Internet has taken a lot of work from the print industry, has invented new working positions and products, has transformed business processes, but it is not yet clear whether it is “a good thing.” What is certain is that the broadband connections have changed every aspect of our lives, including belief structures, conventions and symbols that resisted for years in the media industry and have suddenly collapsed. Websites like “the New York Times and ViralNova (we talked about it here) look exactly the same in your Facebook feed,” says Sessions (last week Facebook explained what will be the new parameters under which it will choose what content will appear more often in homepages).
In this way, users’ choices and readings will be affected and the difference between credible news outlets, amateurs, and false news (here there is an academic research study on the social expansion of so-called hoaxes) will be less and less clear. Anyone can write about everything, every news website feels compelled to have its version of events, even if not needed (a journalistic exasperation that John Herrman of The Awl defines as a sort of “we should have something on this” syndrome of which we had already talked about recently and that has once again become a subject of debate). The result is that the outcome of any journalistic effort is given to external and omnivorous companies like Facebook and Google, which are likely to affect a good job and flatten that of others. “This is not the Internet’s fault,” Sessions explains, but the social consequences are enormous and yet to be discovered, in a context in which quality must compete on equal terms with all other content and play on the same grounds (that of clickbait, for example).
One of the often cherished spectra in the analysis of online news criticism is clickbait, the headline or “sensational” topic that would like to capture the attention of the reader (here a recent study on US and French media by Angèle Christin). Annalee Nevitz of io9 has tried to trace its history. According to her research, capture-of-readers content has always existed in various forms, from the sensationalist headline to the comics page, as well as criticisms of these practices – and more generally of the means offered by modernity – have always found a home (here a political cartoon from 1888), until the inevitable warning against the telegraph, published in the NYT in the mid nineteenth century. In a couple of posts Mathew Ingram of GigaOM tries to respond to criticism and to return to the “golden age” subject. The decline of the industry is evident (though just take a look at this post by Frederic Filloux about the last 10 years of the media market), although journalism is not only “newspaper,” but a set of ideas, insights and services that are looking for their winning path in a period of transition. This is not the best of times for journalism, Ingram continues, but it is not the worst either. Complaining about digital natives and their content (from BuzzFeed to Vice and Gawker) is like blaming the horoscopes. We can only expect that the evolution is fulfilled and try to be protagonists. “Journalism will be just fine, even if print-based newspapers and magazines are not.”
Inventing journalism: the I fucking love science case
An example of how journalism can be, regardless of the platform that houses it and the intentions of those who work, comes from the cover story in the September issue of Columbia Journalism Review. In a long profile titled “Do you know Elise Andrew?“, Alexis Sobel Fitts recounts the story of Elise, a 22-year old student who invented I fucking love science, a Facebook page that has become, in only a few months, a recognized and profitable media brand, a reference point for lovers of the industry and those who don’t. Launched in March 2012 as a page dedicated to jokes and science themed memes, IFLS today attracts about 18 million fans, almost seven times more than Popular Science and Discover (with 2,7 million), more than double the Facebook page of the New York Times (just over 8 million). Starting from images, over time Elise goes to the sharing of articles, then drawing up a sort of weekly review on the scientific universe, keeping the pop style already recognizable from the F* word of the name. According to the article by Columbia, the strength of IFLS is to have built a fun and cohesive community without trolls, in which Andrew participates (there was a paradigmatic reaction by the fans when they discovered that behind IFLS there was not a data journalists newsroom, lab rats and social algorithms experts, but a twenty years old college student).
A very peculiar case study, considering the domestic and almost incidental nature of the experiment. The author of the profile does not fail to emphasize this aspect, comparing it to the media scene of recent times. “Unlike other visionaries who have been celebrated as journalism’s self-made digital-era brands – I’m looking at you, Ezra Klein and Nate Silver – Andrew has built her brand entirely without the assistance of mainstream media.” “Klein and Silver – Sobel Fitts continues – are described as a new kind of journalist – entrepreneurs of new media – but both relied on traditional outlets to broaden their appeal and bolster their credibility.” Elise Andrew is instead a new prototype of a media superstar who has made it by herself. It is not clear whether I Fucking Love Science is a new form of journalism, concludes the author, but of course we are speaking of a page with millions and millions of likes, with a website (created in November 2013) and its own TV series for Science Channel (on air this autumn), which in August tried to give correct information and restrain the alarmism of the expansion of the Ebola virus. Something that recalls what typically is defined as “journalism.”