Doin’ Work

“Today’s technology means athletes don’t need a middleman anymore… I see a day when the following sequence will be routine: Player demands trade on blog; team obliges and announces deal on Twitter; player thanks old fans, takes shots at old team and gushes about new team on Facebook. We will not need anyone to report this, just someone to recap it. Preferably with links.”
– Bill Simmons, ESPN the Magazine

I remember George Carlin once defining irony as a man with diabetes going to buy insulin and being killed by a runaway truck full of diabetic supplies. I had that flashback in reading Bill Simmons recently.

In his last few columns, Simmons has bemoaned the democratization of the Web and the way in which we’re seeing more and more use of it by non-media types. I don’t disagree with him to a certain extent. Inthis piece on Kobe Bryant’s biopic “Doin’ Work,” he noted that we’ve lost the sense of reporting and have found ourselves rolling down a hill toward punditry and commentary.

I find it humorous that Simmons of all people is noting this. He’s made his career on the Web, finding ways to turn a biting sense of sarcasm and a wealth of knowledge about six things into a media fiefdom. It’s like the people who bemoan the loss of newspapers but end up reading most of their content at HuffPo or those who bitch about the death of the American auto industry while driving a Mercedes. It’s not their fault, but they’re not helping things.

To be fair, I don’t disagree with him. We’re seeing too much in the way of commentary and not enough in the way of news (I note the irony here…). We’re killing off the goose that laid the golden egg of content and then wondering why we’re bereft of information. Except we didn’t kill the goose with an axe: We bled it to death, noting that, “Hey, it’s still alive and nothing bad has happened yet.” First it was the one-newspaper town, then it was the shuttering of foreign bureaus, national bureaus and now state bureaus. Certain papershave stopped delivering to “outlying” areas such as up the road from the printing press.

No, it’s not entirely the fault of the Internet, which has become the requisite scapegoat for anything that goes wrong at a newspaper these days. However, the ability for more and more people to say whatever they want to means news organizations are being more akin to stenographers than minstrels: They’re not telling stories, they’re taking dictation. Still, as much as we talk about journalists not doing their jobs, they’ve been conditioned over time to think of their work as a lesser part of the whole.

Content used to have value, but somewhere along the way, it became a vehicle for selling ads. Thus, we started seeing places giving away the content (cheap magazine subscriptions, free newspapers to NIE programs) to help bolster circulation for the ad folk. Now, the ad folk don’t need us anymore to reach the audience, just like the jocks don’t need the writers. To borrow a Simmons-ism, newspapers became like the high school junior who started putting out for her boyfriend because he was going to college in a few months: we sold out to hang on to something we were going to lose anyway and we lost ourselves in the process.

2 thoughts on “Doin’ Work

  1. Cutbacks at newspapers. Some people seem to have forgotten it predates the Internet.
    A few years before the Web, our local Newhouse organ stopped publishing the weekly insert that carried their arts, book review, and occasional fiction. That happened to coincide nicely with my own dream of starting up a book review magazine, which was enhanced by me getting a job that paid several times as much as I’d made working in a bookstore and the advent of color desktop publishing. So I put out the first issue of what was meant to be a quarterly, 24-page, tabloid-sized newsprint mag, with four-color covers, great illustration, and some decent writing. Within a few months, the paper had created a new book review section. It was smaller than what they’d had before, but it was something. We only limped along for a couple of years before problems with ad sales caught up to us, but I always felt that we’d accomplished something small, at least.

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