The dangers of media navel-gazing
The media, collectively, is beginning to look like it doesn’t have the will to get off the psychoanalyst’s divan.
At a certain stage, it becomes counterproductive to self-analyze. The news media doesn’t seem to realize that, and it continues to collectively bemoan its lack of cash and jobs, share gossip about layoffs or incongruous-seeming successes, and generally engage in extended back-and-forths about how to “fix” whatever’s wrong.
I’m guilty of doing it too, here at True/Slant and elsewhere. At T/S, some of the most commented-upon and popular posts concern themselves with journalism’s woes or the latest example of a decline in media standards, ethics, and profitability. The Internet’s thick with media gossip sites (from pioneer Romenesko, to Gawker, to Media Bistro’s FishBowl line of blogs). An inordinate amount shows up on blog-curating sites (including the dominant ones), perhaps because they’re more than anything stables for journalists and writers struggling to make ends meet. Then there’s a slew of writing coaches, proposal workshops, jobs sites, and career counselors who specialize in hand-holding media types through inevitable career lurches. An incredible amount of coverage is being devoted to the news industry’s crisis, some of it constructive, most of it dispensable.
There’s so much coverage, I wonder if we’re overestimating its interest to the general public. It’s always going to be the case that a profession will have its water cooler talk, and with the Internet, much of it is going to be public. But there’s too much of it and too much of it is seeping into spaces where a reader or viewer might simply want to be informed or told a story. Instead, they’re forced to be voyeurs while journalists and writers whine and writhe anxiously. Understood– there’s a crisis. A certain amount of taking stock and re-jiggering is in order. Considered criticism and brainstorming has its place. But in the end, what pulls people and industries out of crises is action, not words. There are some positive trends emerging in media coverage– like a few articles (here, and here, and here) about what does work these days, instead of what doesn’t. The sky’s not falling everywhere; certain talents and skills will always be in demand. When I begin to tell friends about the industry’s problems, and I’m sure a tightness creeps into my voice, their eyes glaze over. When I begin to describe the latest story or topic I’m passionate about, they seem to light up again. It’s true the business model needs revamping, citizen journalism and blogging has hollowed out payrolls. But nobody’s gotten ahead anywhere by asking for favors or pining for bygone days. It’s not entertaining, engaging, or, finally, very productive. Perhaps we should focus single-mindedly on storytelling, explaining the world, making sense of things, learning to use new tools and styles. Much of the endless shop-talk, the doom and gloom, goes nowhere. Why don’t we break the cycle?