Sunday, April 12, 2009

Catching A Greased Pig

Yesterday I attended a Get Lit event held at Auntie's entitled The Changing Media Landscape in the Inland Northwest. It was moderated by Ryan Pitts of the Spokesman Review. In addition to Luke Baumgarten, Jim McPherson, and Cheryl-Anne Millsap on the panel, John Orr of KYRS radio was included.

After mulling everything over I have these observations.

Discussing "the media" proved difficult because many people had a different idea of what "the media" is. Much of the focus was on the forms that present or purport to present the news, television and newspapers as obvious members. (Kudos to the audience member making the comment about how a house fire in a far away place is not news in Spokane.) Alternative publications--I learned about a new online one--were in the group. But the discussion also took a short tour of blogging and what one audience member called citizen journalism. Jim McPherson made an interesting point that a trained journalist tells you a fraction of what he/she knows about a story and I took that to mean that because of all the developed contacts, additional resources at hand, and thorough following of leads, the story ends up containing the most important elements. I'd say it's like contrasting a lengthy, in-depth article with a book. The book contains everything. Bloggers, according to McPherson, tell you half of what they know. That sounds about right because, as he explained, many of them don't have the resources and contacts to get all the facts. For me, that depends on who you're including. A well-written, enjoyable personal journal is a blog, but is it part of "the media"? Consequently, I think you must also consider the intent and purpose of the blog. While Spokane has nothing like Talking Points Memo, there are some excellent blogs that provide accurate and useful information.

The trick, as was mentioned by the panel concerning any media, is that so many people can't tell the difference between worthwhile and worthless. One contributor, briefly mentioned in the discussion, is the lack of discourse in our country. Rather than get into the cause and effect of that, which essentially tries to lay blame, I think it's more meaningful to talk about the symptoms brought up during the discussion.

There is a marked lack meaningful news, i.e., that which is important for the community. A plethora of pundits tell us how to think. Too many people read or pay attention to only that which agrees with their views. Most media is profit driven and more concerned with titillation in order to sell advertising. Consolidation of the media--and here we're talking television, radio, newspapers, and magazines--so that much of it is now owned by five corporations stifles information sharing. (I'd like to interject here that this is where Internet technologies can have a positive impact on society. Blogging permits a quiet voice to be heard in the media din so pay attention to network neutrality issues.)

Several ideas for the Spokane area came up. One was partnering. If a niche publication covers an area quite well then how about other publications not compete and/or share stories? The pros (lack of corporate interest) and cons (difficulty in making a living) of making it a nonprofit organization were discussed. Including what is not known in the story was something an audience participant brought up. Sometimes I do think it would be useful for a reporter to include the asked questions that were not answered.

I enjoyed the session very much. There were a lot of ideas presented and it was good to see that many of those in attendance participated. But as the discussion went from tangent to tangent it was evident that this is a difficult issue to get a hold of.

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