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Media at the Feet of the Net

May 23, 2011 by Flavie | Comments (0)


Media at the feet of the net is a documentary that was broadcast on French private TV channel Canal+, earlier this month. It deciphers some of the impacts of the digital revolution on media. Here is a summary of its main lines.
In a ad for the Washington Post app for iPad, the star reporter Bob Woodward (since he triggered the Watergate scandal in 1972 with his pal Carl Bernstein) is struggling to use his tablet computer, and his ex chief editor, Ben Bradlee, is telling him: “that’s the future, get with it!”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KCUFxFoaloE
The story starts with publicity slowly giving up print media for virtual media. Print media have thus started to save money in a drastic way. In France, Le Monde dismissed 120 journalists. Reporting and investigative journalism are more and more difficult to finance. Newspaper offices lose vitality. Journalism as we have experienced until recently is going through a crisis.

Free information = reliable information?

The consequences of “free” information financed by publicity are that printed media are on the net but also a lot of information is broadcast through websites and blogs. The drawbacks are many: “infobesity”, a lack of hierarchy in the information, a growing use of cut and paste leading to considerable repetition, “light” information that is not contextualized, information as a consumer good: the need for curation (see Blog post on 7 April) is growingly perceived as a necessity.

Mathieu Pigasse, banker and business man, is one of the three new shareholders of the Le Monde Group with Pierre Bergé (who among others is a UNESCO’s goodwill Ambassador) and Xavier Niel (founder of Free, inventor of the box’ triple offer). Pigasse states: “media is the only sector in the world where I have seen the opening of two stores: one where you have to pay, the other one where everything is free, I call it suicide”.

On the other hand, Mediapart is one of the first French paying media primarly created on the web. The idea was to make the website accessible through financial contributions. At the beginning people were more than skeptical about its success that would rely on heavy, long and costly information. However, it has worked, and very well.

This new kind of journalism is also financed by private donators and sponsorships like the Pulitzer Prize winning on line newsroom ProPublica that produces “investigative journalism in the public interest”. However, journalists and editors admit that they would rather have readers to pay for information.

Geek + hacker + reporter = ?

Why does it work? The way these journalists see information is very new. They deliver raw information as much as they do investigative reporting: a kind of “wikileaks way of reporting”. They favour “sideration” working with stunning raw material, raw cuts (eg. Wikileaks’ videos showing attacks on civilians in Iraq), raw sound recording (Mediapart on the French Bettencourt case) that would be stronger, according to them, than retranscription and analysis.

A “technoid” and subversive journalism. In an interview given by Kristinn Hrafnsson, Wikileaks’ spokeperson, a former Icelandic investigative journalist, gives a compelling impression: Wikileaks journalists consider themselves as working on a “pure” journalistic form.

A non readable and non controllable future

Within ten years, all media will be read on Internet. What is expected: A forest revival! More technologies that will keep on changing the media environment such as digital paper. A race for more and more new applications, media brand content development and a diversification of journalism related jobs… However, on the aspect of media landscape, predictions are impossible, the future is un-readable.  And reactions to some “mutant” kind of journalism are violent because it is uncontrollable.

Should we keep in mind two issues, the following are of paramount importance:

  • we are experiencing a moment of void in the life of media without a well organized economic foundation, if the notion of information value and costly information is to be kept then a financial model is to be found;
  • and how do you finance, in the Internet age, quality information essential to a democratic debate of quality?

 An interview of Bob Woodward on the evolution of journalism

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