Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Depression Will Be Twittered

"I want us to get in on the ground floor of the next band wagon."
(by William Haefeli, for the New Yorker)

“After the stock market crash, some New York editors suggested that hearings be held; what had really caused the Depression? They were held in Washington. In retrospect, they make the finest comic reading. The leading industrialists and bankers testified. They hadn’t the foggiest notion what had gone bad.” 
-Hard Times by Studs Terkel (1970) 

Speaking with NPR on the current financial situation, Jeff Jarvis supposed that, “I don’t think anyone—including the people in charge—can make sense of what’s happening in the country right now…it’s just too big and too complicated, and it requires both too much background and fundamental understanding about economics.” Meanwhile, news on the changing financial climate is flying in at a breakneck speed. People, seeming to want answers, or at least explanations—somebody to translate the current state of financial affairs into English, are tuning in: the week of 9/14 proved to be the highest rated in all of CNBC’s nineteen year history and viewer ship has more than doubled for shows like CNBC’s Mad Money. But what are they getting? What happens when the media can’t keep up with the news? And really, how many experts does it take to explain the news?

Locked into what NPR called a “quick-twitch story cycle, ” journalists are scrambling for the newest, hottest stories before they burn out and the next fire is lit.  Or as this cartoon from the New Yorker so aptly put it, they are fighting for "The ground floor of the the next bandwagon."  In the interim, seems like the MSM has resorted to melodrama to tide over the onlookers until they can sort out what’s going on. Flashy (and vague) headlines about “nightmares,” “meltdown,” and cute smiles are feeding viewers emotional needs, keeping them glued to the media like passerby’s to a car crash.

Is it possible for the media to break from this cycle and provide quantity and quality--up to the moment news and substantive reporting? Perhaps times of high turnover news are better handled by new medias, like bloggers and twitterers, who can provide up to the moment information. As Hamilton Nolan of Gawker put so kindly, “we don’t need more bloggers. Content is really much more worthwhile. Invest in it. Any asshole can blog, shit. You have reporters. Use them!” Talk is cheap, but perhaps, in an economy like this, news is worth investing in.


M. Dery said...

You throw off a lot of sparks, but the reader gets lost in the welter of ideas, which don't coalesce into a strong, focused thesis. Quoting Jarvis, you seem to imply that the Achilles' Heel of most business journalists---that they're generalists, rather than MBA's with a Krugman-ian grasp of economic theory---renders them disastrously ill-equipped to Explain It All For Us, in the midst of an economic freefall that's moving at mach speed. Then, you shift course, suggesting that the print medium is too slow-moving to keep pace with breaking developments. You wonder if the future belongs to bloggers and Twitterers. At the end, you pull a U-turn, arguing that the last thing we need is a world ruled by bloggers. Reader's head is spinning. This post, while smart and full of interesting ideas, gave me intellectual vertigo. Reader needs to know where you're going. Also, linking to posts on our site feels lazy, as if you didn't do any research beyond our own backyard.

Zara Golden said...

Regarding my "U-turn:"
I probably should have contextualized Nolan's quote a little further. In using it, I wasn't intending to imply a bleak-future filled with bloggers and self-proclaimed experts. Rather, I was thinking it highlighted the importance of both new media and print/broadcast journalism--it's just that their importance lies in different aspects reporting. It was aimed more at print journalism, something of a plea for them to step up and distinguish themselves from the world of bloggers. I think (and considering Hamilton's bills are paid by blogging, I would assume he feels similarly) there is a place in the world for both forms of journalism. Perhaps, when the news is hitting in these quick-twitch cycles, it's best handled in appropriate bursts by bloggers and twitterers. But when it comes to comprehensive reporting, the mass media may be more suited (at least economically so) to invest what's needed. I guess I don't mean to pull such a u-turn so much as I mean to suggest a growing gap in the roles of new and old(er) media. Sometimes it's more effective to stick to what you do best.