The idea that bloggers or citizen journalists are going to be the end of Big Media has been floating around since blogging started to to gain a little popularity. Bloggers have been predicting Big Media’s End of Days and Big Media people have been pointing to less than exemplary writing and laughing at the thought of these upstart bloggers taking over. Good times.
It seems though that this debate is still raging and Matt Buckland’s post about editors as gatekeepers moderating content published by those upstarts is the most recent expression of the debate I have read, albeit in a more developed form. While the model Matt talks about has worked (his points to Thought Leader which is a good example of how the model can work well), I don’t see this is a major issue worthy of such focus. Bloggers are not going to replace the professional journalist. Readers will (and do) read articles written by journalists as well as bloggers. This really shouldn’t be an “us versus them” scenario or even a serious debate about how Big Media can reign in those crazy bloggers. I find the notion that editors are necessary if there is going to be quality content published on blogs or elsewhere on the social Web to be mildly offensive. There are some excellent bloggers out there who put many journalists and editors to shame. Even then, the distinction between bloggers and journalists is often a false distinction. A number of professional journalists blog prolifically and while they may not fall into the category of “citizen journalist” (I’m not even sure I like that category as a description of a legitimate blogger sub-set), they manage to blur the distinction pretty successfully.
As I have pointed about before, the real issue is more about Big Media’s changing model and specifically its adaptation to new distribution models. The old slogan that “Newspapers Are Dead” may be closer to the truth than the contention that Big Media is dying. Newspapers, as in the physical paper publication, are wasteful and should be put to rest. This is more about the medium than the content presented in that medium. It is also a bit about the model itself.
What we should be seeing from our newspaper publishers is a concerted effort to adopt technologies like RSS more extensively and incorporating them into their business models. I’d like to see this from any publisher actually. I receive a magazine called De Rebus from the Law Society which is free to practising attorneys and available at a nominal subscription fee to other practitioners. The publication is also available, to a degree, online for free. I would like to receive De Rebus each month as a stream of feed items via RSS instead. Heck, a PDF of the magazine would be great too, it must be in a format capable of being converted to PDF already. I don’t mind receiving the download link for each month’s issue via RSS too. Instead the site is available through LexisNexis’ convoluted interface which might be comforting to those few lawyers who actually use LexisNexis’ online offerings but it keeps the content locked up on the site.
Another example is my monthly Fortune magazine subscription. What about an RSS feed for those articles so each month I pick up another 20 or 30 feed items in NetNewsWire when the physical magazine goes out? This applies to Brainstorm too (which I also subscribe to). Heck what about being able to buy access to a given month’s issue of a magazine ad hoc? Subscription feeds are not new and provide a perfect mechanism to control access to subscriber content. I can sign up with my publisher of choice, buy my subscription and use a username/password combination to subscribe to my paid subscription feed that includes the full articles. People who don’t pay could perhaps receive a truncated article that forces them to visit the web site for the full article (ad supported).
This last weekend I wanted to read an article in the Sunday Independent. I visited the site and discovered that the article was “premium” content and I couldn’t read it unless I subscribed to the physical newspaper first. Why? Why can’t I choose to subscribe to a digital version only? What about signing up and buying the odd article here and there? Think iTunes for newspapers except I use my existing feedreader to read the (full) articles that I download when I buy access to the article on the site either ad hoc or by subscribing to the digital version at a reduced cost (no paper).
Of course Big Media may be concerned about piracy and may want to exercise more control over what can be done with the digital articles. After all, my feedreader downloads text or html and that can be copied and redistributed (consider first that people pass around the newspapers they buy or magazines they subscribe to anyway). Why not develop or make use of either a suitable device that can accommodate news content conveniently or make use of something like Adobe’s Digital Edition software or something similar to enable people to read their subscriptions on their own devices that support the software? There are many feasible options and yet here we are still debating whether bloggers are going to overthrow Big Media!
Perhaps we should be spending more energy talking about better, more environment friendly means of getting all that good content out there rather than getting caught up in false or less important distinctions. Another perspective: with declining newspaper sales it must make economic sense to start reducing the amount of paper that is printed and distributed and instead persuade the market to shift to a paperless option. This won’t happen overnight but it has to begin at some point.