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Sunday March 14, 2010 8:53 pm

SXSW 2010: Media Armageddon: What happens when the New York Times dies?

Posted by Andru Edwards Categories: Editorial, Features, Internet

This is a session wrap-up from SXSW 2010. To start the session, a question was asked by the moderators to the audience “If the times ceased to exist, how would you feel?”  Only a few hands in an audience of 500 said that would be disappointed.  Only several more were indifferent, but a vast majority would be upset if the media giant no longer created their content in print or online.

Those on the panel were:

  • David Carr, a writer from the NY Times.
  • Amy Langfield, travel and events site New Yorkology a blog on what is going on in New York.
  • Marcus Moulitsas of the Daily Kos a blog site with thousands of writers.
  • Greg Beato writer for a magazine called Reason
  • Henry Copeland the moderator who is with BlogAds

Gawker is believed to be marching towards the Times in regard to a quality of content creation by adding reporters.  With Nick Denton running it, a former reporter himself, it is believed by the panel to be pushing towards a spin as a quality web newspaper.  Gawker Media has been pushing content out quicker than traditional media outlets. Blogs typically do not spend the time fact checking, do not create a back story, and create quick and concise content with few details, with the benefit of these being published in an extremely timely manner.

Greg Beato said “if the times dies, how will the New Yorkers find their stories and who will do the investigative work?”  Will bloggers be able to fill the void be creating the same type content?  Crowd sourcing can solve the problem of time around a story because many people can research a story.  But the question remains; can online
journalism be expected to live up to the quality that professional writers create vs. frequently untrained or casual writers?

The problem with citizen journalism, according to Carr is what “We cannot weigh the objectives and provide checks and balances with individual bloggers” such as what interests are driving those writers - whether they are financial or political in nature.  Moulitsas continues “We have to work every day to build credibility that the traditional papers do, by linking to sources and showing where the data for the story came from.”

The New York Times website has 22M unique views and of those, 25% are 18-25 years old.  “The newspaper was an aggregator long before the web and still has costly tactics based upon 150 years of legacy in order to have costly methods to fact check” according to Beato.  He goes on to say that most people today are willing to do a little
research to debunk untrue stories that are read on the web.  My opinion on this is that social media or Internet experts may be able to do this, but the majority of Internet users do not want to or have the skills necessary to research stories that they happen upon on the Internet.  Unfortunately too is that “swarms” of Internet users can
flood untrue stories so that they seem legitimate due to gaming the system.

Moulitsas says that people have to become more savvy reading the media to make sure that what they are reading on Twitter or blog posts are taken with a grain of salt and not all necessarily true.  “Pretty much anyone can say anything today.”  Carr believes that the web is like “a self cleaning oven, where some things will catch fire and another
group will come through and clean things up.”

With the loss of classified ads like automotive and real estate, there is no business model that will facilitate the heavy infrastructure of the publishing giant.  Gawker has over 100 in their editorial staff and has an investigative reporter.  Their page views are more than 400 million uniques, and they are only a handful of years old.  There is
no doubt that quality investigative journalism requires a check and balance that only a media entity who has proven values can establish. To assume readers will “make their own judgement” on what editorial is true or not is unreasonable, and what gives twitter and some blogs a bad name.

My favorite twitter quote after the session comes from Kelly Looney @krlooney: Final resolution for the NYT? Public subsidation, from the Mexican Government. #endtimes

My hope is that journalism will remain fair, unbalanced and factual without financial, editorial or governmental influence.  With these changing times in media, this may be a lot to ask for.

Dave Mathews @ggdm is an inventor, broadcaster and consultant who has helped such companies as RadioShack, Sling Media and . You can find more of his content at www.davemathews.com.

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