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There is so much confusion on the future of media, journalism and news — demonstrated with utmost clarity (or lack thereof) here in a Spiegel interview with Chris Anderson, Wired editor and respected author of the Long Tail.
In a fairly grumpy interview, Anderson himself seems to get confused — at first refusing to use the terms, then appearing to concede. I wonder why? Time zone issue? Woken up for the interview at a ridiculous time in the morning? Or is it because dislike of media (mainly traditional media) is all the more vogue these days?
This is how the interview starts:
SPIEGEL: Mr. Anderson, let’s talk about the future of journalism.
Anderson: This is going to be a very annoying interview. I don’t use the word journalism.
SPIEGEL: Okay, how about newspapers? They are in deep trouble both in the United States and worldwide.
Anderson: Sorry, I don’t use the word media. I don’t use the word news. I don’t think that those words mean anything anymore. They defined publishing in the 20th century. Today, they are a barrier. They are standing in our way, like ‘horseless carriage’.
SPIEGEL: Which other words would you use?
Anderson: There are no other words. We’re in one of those strange eras where the words of the last century don’t have meaning. What does news mean to you, when the vast majority of news is created by amateurs? Is news coming from a newspaper, or a news group or a friend? I just cannot come up with a definition for those words. Here at Wired, we stopped using them.
I think Anderson is right up until a point. And we know the line: Thanks to the levelling effects of the internet the media game is wide open and set for massive fragmentation. It’s easier than ever before for human beings to produce and distribute their own media about the broadest or narrowest of topic. There’ll be audience out there, somewhere online to consume it. In many respects, any company online pushing information is a “media company”. All online companies are media companies… has that eroded or changed the meaning of “media”? Is the concept of a “media company” problematic in this context? Maybe.
But take the words “journalism” and “news” however. I’m not so sure these are outdated terms. Technology has changed the production, distribution and platforms of these disciplines, but at essence the core values stay the same. Everyone and their cellphone or blog or website is a potential reporter or columnist and we have Google to filter — but surely we still need reporters to co-ordinate, filter, contextualise, understand, fact-check, and add a further layer of credibility in the face of waves of digital information.