Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Reality-based reporting

CNN is laying off 50 journalists and replacing them with just regular folks called “iReporters,” who apparently will provide compelling and probing journalism for free.
In other news, Disney has announced that it will no longer pay people to make movies for its film division, relying instead on YouTube videos spliced together in random sequence. And, book publisher Random House will stop paying authors to write for them -- it will republish free blogs.
Those last two, of course, are false. They make as much sense, however, as CNN’s “all in” move toward citizen journalism. There’s a trend here, of course -- journalism produced by the people about the people.
It’s tempting to get all “the First Amendment, blah, blah, blah” about this, but that would make me sound like an ivory tower, out-of-touch dinosaur of an old-fashioned journalist. Instead, let’s turn to satirist Stephen Colbert, whose riff on CNN’s move is both funny and unsparing.
Announcing his new project, “me Reporters” (remember, he’s a satirist), he says, “Why buy the cow when you can have it shakily videotape its own milk for free?”
Using unpaid “iReporters,” Colbert suggests, is like an internship: “If you work for free, put in your time, and your work is good enough, maybe one day you could be laid off by CNN.”
Colbert sums up his piece on “me Reporters” thusly: “Bravo, CNN, for getting rid of all those pesky professionals. Hopefully this bold move will help you get rid of your remaining viewers.”
Really, you should see the whole thing.
No, even now I’m not going to launch into a sermon on the importance of real journalism, the obvious dangers of “citizen journalism,” or the various directions journalism is headed in this, the Age of Entertainment. I leave it to you dear reader, to draw your own conclusions. 

I will, however, make some predictions:

--This trend among legitimate and ostensible news organizations across the country will continue, if not increase in pace.

--For many people the changes will go unnoticed, as the line between YouTube “journalism” and the real thing has been obliterated for a lot of people. For an increasing number of the media, journalism is more closely related to reality TV than serious reporting of the news. This strategy appears to be highly profitable.

--There will be increasing instances of “news” that will turn out to be fiction, blatantly misleading or otherwise skewed by people who have a particular ax to grind or lack fundamental newsgathering skills. Whether this will compel a move away from citizen journalism remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, let’s just call it reality-based reporting.

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