YESTERDAY Alan Crosbie, head of an Irish newspaper company, made a speech that was highly critical of “new media” – ie, that terrible thing you’re reading off a screen right now. The general idea was that newspapers produce quality information, and the internet produces “a tsunami of unverifiable data, opinion, libel and vulgar abuse”.
The rise of new media risked “abandoning that most precious resource, information, to chaos.” New media has the “capacity to destroy civil society and cause unimaginable suffering.” The rhetoric seemed more reminiscent of a North Korean press release than the conference on media diversity where Mr Crosbie was speaking. He even blamed new media for “those English riots.”
Perhaps, like North Korea, the company that Mr Crosbie heads feels under siege. Many older news companies are threatened as print sales and ad revenues decline, and the shortfall is difficult to make up online. There’s suffering in information era alright, though it’s the news companies, not society, that are feeling it.
Thankfully, many “old” media companies (to use Mr Crosbie’s categories) are adapting to the digital era, and developing effective ways to leverage their trusted brands, professional experience and talented journalists and editors. They’re mastering social distribution, opening up comments and discussion threads, developing loyal online followings, and opening up new revenue streams.
The alternative to this is to go bust, or agitate for free government money, as Mr Crosbie did. At the very least, the old media giants should spend their time understanding the new media environment rather than vilifying it. It’s an environment with very solid fact checking, that’s just as reputation-aware as the newspapers. It’s disaggregated, responsive, and fast.
New Media: Democratic and Careful with Facts
For example, when the Independent published the mistranslated ‘Magda’ story, it was mainly new media sources – TheJournal.ie, Broadsheet.ie – that reacted as the fact checkers and published the first Polish reactions. (On the radio, the John Murray show also helped correct the record.)
When the SOPA Ireland legislation appeared, it was these same outlets that published pieces that spread public awareness about the new law. It was through new media that an anti-SOPA campaign banded together and collected tens of thousands of signatures, and through new media that thousands of people alerted Ireland’s TDs that internet censorship was not a good idea.
In olden days, the entire Stop SOPA Ireland campaign would have been lucky to get a single letter on the Irish Times letter page. And that would have been it. That’s the time that Mr Crosbie longingly harkens back to.
Ireland’s New Media Horsemen of the Apocalypse
Let’s stop and look at the rest of this dangerous new media environment.
In my experience, it’s pretty damn good. I get better context on Ireland’s debt, housing market, and property skullduggery from NamaWineLake than the business pages of the broadsheets. For discussion and reporting on politics, there’s politics.ie, which has broken many political stories over the past few years, as has TheJournal.ie in the past 12 months. We’ve also got great reporting via Freedom of Information requests from thestory.ie, and reliable fact checking on the fuzzy facts spewed out by official Ireland from Maman Poulet. Similar fact checking continues on Twitter every day, driven by reporters, economists, and others.
For technology and startup business, there’s the newspaper of record for that sector, Silicon Republic, as well as several smaller tech sites. For areas like fashion and beauty there are blogs like What She Wears and beaut.ie.
It’s true that there’s a lot of mulch out there among the good tweets . But new media companies are solving this problem – it’s exactly what Dublin-based Storyful does. Our startup, NewsWhip, tracks which stories are spreading the fastest through the social web – it’s a democratic news filter edited by a billion people, deciding what to share on Facebook and Twitter.
New Media: Better at being Correct
New media sources will not destroy civil society and cause unimaginable suffering. And as TJ McIntyre points out in his IT law blog, they did not enable the London Riots. A detailed, data-driven Guardian study found that the riots were coordinated by text messages and private instant messages. Twitter was used to co-ordinate the cleanup.
Once again, a misconception (“Rioters on Twitter”) is corrected by data-driven new media. The Guardian has embraced a Digital First policy, and its future looks strong. In mid-2010, the Guardian was making an annual £40 million in online revenue – and that’s eons ago in new media terms. The Atlantic magazine recently announced that its online revenues were now exceeding its offline revenues.
Another great thing in new media – you can check all of what I’ve just said. Click on the hyperlinks, follow through. And if I got anything wrong, you can point it out in the comments.
It’s hard for the people with the printing presses to accept that they can’t any longer control the information we get each day. It’s particularly hard to imagine that their product – a daily fact sheet of what happened yesterday – might be just a temporary product of the information distribution technology of the 18th to 20th centuries.
There’s a lot to compete with online. But there’s only one solution to the problem – it’s not punitive legislation geared at new media. It’s producing a better new media product. I wish them good luck doing that.
Paul Quigley is co-founder of Newswhip.com.