What Kashmir Hill said | Bleader

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

What Kashmir Hill said

Posted By on 08.04.09 at 01:34 PM

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Above the Law blogger Kashmir Hill has a great piece in response to Ian Shapira's Gawker-is-killing-teh-journalism story. Worth reading for her delivery of just desserts to big news orgs (are dailies killing the blogs?!?), but this jumped out:

"It’s not primarily bloggers killing newspapers. It’s a public that doesn’t want to read real paper anymore. It’s readers who want humor, voice, and a strong point of view in the news they read."

I think this is true, but it's tricky: it reminds me of the way that popular music, during the 20th century, evolved from more, smaller distribution channels (like the tiny, "eccentric," truly strange labels that Numero Uno is so masterful at discovering) to a market dominated by major labels and radio/TV powerhouses, and has since started to revert back thanks to the Internet.

What people want will always be limited by what technology and industry makes available. I grew up outside a small city in southwestern Virginia, where my exposure to popular music was bounded by Rolling Stone (crappy, '90s Rolling Stone), whatever happened to be spinning on the unadventurous local radio stations (no college radio, sorry), and whatever the mall record stores happened to have in stock.

Obviously there were other distribution channels available; my friends have regaled me with tales of ordering away for cassette-only releases from all over the country. But I never had an in to that scene, and consumed whatever major-label stuff Columbia House had on offer.

Was that what I "wanted"? I dunno - it was what I had. It was what a lot of other people had, too, and to an extent it got mistaken for an endpoint in distribution and aesthetics.

Now what I want is much weirder and broader, and it's the same way for lots of people I know. Writ large, it means the audience is gathering in puddles instead of lakes, making it harder or impossible for creators, and their corporate representatives, to make sufficient money to go full-time in creation.

I feel the same way about the Web. I want "humor, voice, and a strong point of view" for obvious reasons, but for me that's, say, Doghouse Riley. I think he's a genius and a prose stylist of the first order, but he's an singularly odd voice, with an odd sense of humor, and I don't expect more than a handful of people to like it as much as I do. I love his long, rambling, textured sentences, which run counter to any reasonable advice about writing on the Web, or writing generally, but few people have the patience for it. Fair enough.

There is something of a crisis in newspaper writing. It is boring. It isn't funny, and it's rarely passionate. Some of this obviously has to do with the peak professionalism of the genre, but I can't help but think that the main cause is that newspapers have been forced by advertising declines and rich Dickensian assholes to work on the margins of their budgets. It's not an environment in which anyone wants to take risks, and there's no bigger risks than humor or passion (RedEye was supposed to be a response, and while it was admirably ahead of the curve, it's so eager to please that reading it feels like getting a leg-humping from a needy puppy).

As a result, the burden of being funny has shifted onto people who have little or nothing to lose, like middle-aged pseudonymous Indiana residents who have watched or read The Big Sleep a lot.

I'm reasonably confident, in a cynical sort of way, that this is a temporary state of affairs. Money will out, it always does. The young, well-educated audience that sucks down Gawker and Above the Law will be, in a few years, the same audience that led to the proliferation of contemporary newspaper real estate sections and similar upper-middle-class trolling. These little incidents of journalistic hand-wringing aren't signs of decline, they're signs of transition.

In short: I suspect the Grunge Era, so to speak, of the journalism industry is coming, and I'm eager to see who turns out to be the Nirvana, the Pearl Jam, and the Marcy Playground of my industry. Here we are now, entertain us.

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