Glen Greenwald, Pierre Omidyar, Walt Mossberg, Kara Swisher, and David Pogue walk into a bar.

Traditional media has taken a few hits these past weeks.

My sister-in-law, who worked for a time in traditional journalism, is having a hard time with the state of affairs in that field. This morning, I read that David Pogue, the New York Times’ stalwart tech journo, is headed to Yahoo.

That lead to this conversation.

(SIL is an abbreviation for Sister-in-Law)


Sohail Mamdani:

Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher left the WSJ

and now David Pogue took off for Yahoo

SIL:

good for them?

Sohail Mamdani:

think of it this way

when you make a list of the top three journalists in the tech space

that’s pretty-much it.

Walt and Kara wrote for the Wall Street Journal

and Pogue wrote for the New York Times

so it’s a big blow for traditional journalism

I’m kinda rubbing my hands and chortling with glee

SIL:

yes because the death of two large news institutions is a gleeful thing

Sohail Mamdani:

I don’t know why you call them “institutions.”

it doesn’t even sound technically correct

ah

maybe you mean it this way:

an established official organization having an important role in the life of a country, such as a bank, church, or legislature: the institutions of democratic government.

cause there’s no other definition of the word that can apply to the WSJ or NYT

SIL:

NYT and WSJ set the standard for journalism in the US

they pretty much defined it

Sohail Mamdani:

much like Standard Oil defined the oil trade

SIL:

j-schools use them as the example

Sohail Mamdani:

back in its day

SIL:

for practices and ethics

standard oil’s purpose wasn’t to be the watchdog of the government

Sohail Mamdani:

that’s great, but that doesn’t make them an institution

SIL:

so I wouldn’t call it an institution because it didn’t set any standards for society

Sohail Mamdani:

I’m not knocking their contributions

I can argue that Apple, in its time, has contributed bold new paradigms to society in the world of computing and technology

and Amazon has democratized publishing

and Netflix is setting new standards for what small(er) players can do in the world of video

that doesn’t make them institutions

yes, WaPo brought down a presidency

and Apple never did

But for me to make a statement like that is to do a disservice to the fundamental seismic shifts in computing, music, movies, TV and design that Apple — and only Apple — has set off in society

but it’s _still_ not an institution.

it’s a company

SIL:

you’re really hung up on this aren’;t you?

Sohail Mamdani:

you could, certainly, argue that the fourth estate has an important role in democratic society

SIL:

fine, they’re not institutions

Sohail Mamdani:

and you’d be right

but

it’s the fourth estate that deserves to be called an institution.

NOT the New York Times.

Or the Wall Street Journal

or any newspaper

they’re giant, monolithic companies that, like so many companies before them, are failing to thrive in a new age.

you know when that whole NSA story broke?

how it stunned everyone.

Glenn Greenwald was the one who leaked that

now he is off with Pierre Omidyar to found a new news organization that understands the new reality

and is going to try and create a sustainable business around it.

but here’s something even more damning

to those who think bloggers and individuals can’t do a job to the high standards of the NYT/WSJ

Marcy Wheeler.

http://mag.newsweek.com/2013/10/04/the-woman-who-knows-the-nsa-s-secrets.html

I’m not saying the NYT/WSJ MUST go

I’m saying the can adapt, or they can die.

If they die, it won’t be because someone maliciously destroyed them

they will be consigned to history by dint of obsolescence

we’re in the early stages (still) of a new way our society generates, analyzes and consumes news.

and trying to rally to the support of inflexible organizations like NYT/WSJ is idealistic, but unrealistic, and, ultimately, futile. Unless those organizations change from within.

And it’s not like a company can’t drive change

I give you Amazon, that’s gotten people to read digital books more now than physical ones.

I give you Netflix, that proved a show that wasn’t on “TV” could win an Emmy

I give you Apple, that saved the music industry

I give you the New York Times, that…. what?


My SIL and I have been having this argument about traditional media for a few years now. She argues that the demise of large newspapers and magazines is bad. I argue it’s not; at least, not necessarily. I think the only good thing about large companies like the New York Times is that they can put their power behind individual journalists who write things those in the first three estates don’t like. Thing is, it doesn’t feel like they’ve been doing much of that lately.

So maybe it’s time that we did consign journalism to dedicated small outfits or individuals who can be backed by the power of the internet at large. Let’s all get pissed off and call our congresspeople and senators and presidents when they try and bully one of our citizen journalists. Let’s be the power behind their exercise of their First Amendment rights.

Just sayin…

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