The Day After The Press Died

November 15, 2007

The press is dying, proclaimed once, twice and thrice a day. Too many authorities have assured us. Its days are even numbered. It has lost too much public respect. Once venerated as the sole purveyor of reason and truth. These days, it looks more like a fevered dinosaur lumbering as an army of bloggers taunt it with insolent jibes – it’s abused relentlessly in blogosphere villified in financial circles as a sunset industry. Will it be eventually bullied into extinction? 

While writing this, it’s hard to disagree with such a convoluted and self-contradicting set of statements. Nonetheless, I’m going to give it a swipe. 

Are newspapers dying? Probably. Will blogging be the cause of its demise? I have absolutely no idea, as much as, it remains an undisputable fact every blogger these days is empowered to be a columnist and may even produce something original, arresting and unique – how the internet might actually replace the press is never really explained by even those who assure us.

A few things stand against the idea that blogging will eventually replace the press. Firstly, at present about 80% of all news in the internet still originates from newspapers. It suggest for one, bloggers don’t have the organizational skills. Or even the resources to sensibly gather and edit news on a scale that allows them to sensibly break out of mediocrity. At present the internet is still very much like the electronic version of a stand up comedian. Who stands up on a soap box in the public square, spouting what he thinks about what the press wrote yesterday – he is at best an ingenious commentator. Granted he may even be passionate and believe what he’s doing will eventually change the world or save the whales in some obscure quarter of our planet. However, I am reminded time and again, all too often, this prognosis fails to mention the role of money and how bloggers may even come to replace the press.  

Money or lack of it will certainly remain the final arbiter whether the press either lives or dies. Conversely money will also define whether blogging will simply remain the stuff of weekend warriorhood or break through the cacophony of mediocrity to assume something more meaningful – that I suspect remains the crux, whenever we revisit the trite and hackneyed narrative; whether the press is going the way of the dinosaurs. 

As it is, the scorecard doesn’t look very good for our local rag. If what’s happening around the world is to go by – it’s advertising and circulation revenues are being whittled away by the internet, and it’s owners seem stricken by a failure of the entrepreneurial imagination needed to stem the hemorrhage. Surveys point disturbingly to a trend where most people these days are getting their daily sound bites on the go from the internet. The press is starting to look like Lola in her twilight years in the Copacabana.  

For the time being, these shifts haven’t really hit the local rag hard. Much of the impact has been absorbed partly because it’s after all still a one horse race. However, this doesn’t mean that it’s survivability is guaranteed.

Unlike the foreign independent presses such as the Herald Tribune and Wall Street Journal who have for generations been controlled exclusively by old money – whose ranks often see the press as some high minded quasi public institution.

Family control has sheltered the big 3’s allowing them to do high quality and high cost journalism. It’s often said many of these owners (before they too peddled off their newspapers), saw the press firstly, not as money making machines, rather as bastions of the truth. This is especially so in the case of the Wall Street Journal.

As a consequence, much of ethos that evolved through it’s cloistered years of being ivory towered from the grubby hands of fat cat corporate sharks and bent politicians bred a distinctively do-goody-good belief that newspapers had a moral duty to lead society by continually seeking out the truth without fear or prejudice. As dreamy and quaint as that may sound, it led to many of them assuming their position as the non elected vanguards of the community -where they even regarded themselves as beholden to the greater good and glory of the community they served – it is precisely the craving out of this fourth estate principles as to how the press should be rather than what it had to be in the West which differentiates them from our local newspapers – as that is what will guarantee their survival – it stands to reason – the truth will always command a demand in the form of readership.

Regrettably our local rag doesn’t have that right of claim – for one, it never once subscribed to such lofty utopian ideals. That can only heighten and sharpen the pain as it tries to grapple with the hubris of trying to maintain readership while being gagged and confined to only reporting a corsetted script.

Unlike the Herald Tribune or Wall Street who never ever saw either the need to narrow the scope of it’s reportage or its ambit to appease their masters – and instead strategically inserted themselves in the sharpnel infested quadrant of no-man’s land squarely between the public and private sphere – the same cannot be said of the local rag. Their deference to power is so deeply ingrained and even nurtured in the culture and routines of mainstream journalism that it allows them to be manipulated by the powerfull who remain indifferent to dissent and protest. This unfortunately, has led to a sort of type casting whereby anything that emerges from officialdom is deemed kosher. While often dismissing other voices not on their merit, but rather where they emerged from. How I wonder does this retain the good currency in the journalistic craft? Something, surely has to give?

In its most primitive form, deference to power is most damaging as not only does it mean just retelling the narrative of the government, thus allowing them to create their own reality. It also a form of leaching that drives away creativity and innovation that forms the backbone of any press.

Eventually, this can only mean more and more readers will be tunning off, one can only assume as the pond dries up even further. The prospects of state subsidize in the form of monetary infusion either directly or indirectly will have to feature sooner or later – the relationship between state and press services it will of course be packaged as something business like, but have no doubts – it has to be something very close to blood transfusion. With it what we will see is the final swan act as the aperture of creativity narrows even further followed by round after round of calcification that can only lead to an exodus of readership.

Against the backdrop of this encroaching new order, we call the ever diminishing circle– it’s fair to expect a further widening disconnect between public and press along with the decay of all the last vestiges of credibility, that’s only too evident as the press shifts closer to assume the final form of the state apparat.

In this mishmash of accidents, one thing will certainly remain unchanged, the cheery blogger who keeps on tossing his ruminations like a ten year old kid on a tricycle – not a care in the world for money, masters or even the great agenda that makes the world turn. Except perhaps the faintest dreams of making the world a better place. Surely, you don’t expect us all to believe such an adorable boy killed the press?  

(By Dotty & LHL – Socio Political / Business – EP 99377382 – The Brotherhood Press 2007) 

2 Responses to “The Day After The Press Died”

  1. juicybaby said

    I am glad to see LHL is writing again. Once again kudo’s, I enjoyed this one very very much!

  2. […] experience – Singabloodypore: A Protest for Free and Fair Elections in Singapore – Just Stuff: The Day After The Press Died – Sam’s Thoughts: Media friends – Oikono: Youth Challenge and Non-profit Governance in […]

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