Earlier today, I was on a conference call espousing about how important a reminder it is to temper all this discussion about a transformation of journalism with the realization that the brand names of the most respected news, magazine, and industry publications still carry a lot of cultural cache, whether we want to proclaim the era of print as dead or not.
This was all driven by the news from a few news outlets recently that Second Life was losing steam and that it wasn't the business opportunity some thought it was. I wrote about those issues earlier today.
But this has been a longheld debate, whether it is Axel Bruns in Gatewatching or Dan Gillmor and his book, We the Media. I agree with both that there is something transformational in involving the collective intelligence of everyone by getting them involved with the news-gathering and reporting process and that it leads to a better information in the process. There has always been something a little murky about the intense "professionalization" of journalism, and it seems that the credentials of being a good journalism means that "the proof is in the pudding," so to speak. If we are to believe in a system where the best writing rises to the top, anyway, doesn't this mean that credibility still has to be gained on a micro-level, even in a much more decentralized news world?
On the other hand, one of the ways people still seek a seal of quality is through brands, and those may be the bastions of quality that have always been in place (whatever you believe those brands may be). But the point is that the decentralizing of news doesn't mean that the "old media world," but certainly a shift in how that old media functions. It's big benefit is that the brand already has a reputation with its audience.
Like with this Second Life situation. All it took was for a few reputed news sources to question the value of Second Life, whether that be a tech magazine like Wired or an industry mag like Advertising Age, and suddenly the industry is all running around like Chicken Little. Of course, people have been saying things like this from the very beginning, and even if they were in well-written editorials on online sites or blogs, they didn't mean as much without such a big-name news brand behind them, appealing to a wider audience. And, when some of those big-name institutions defend Second Life, they will listen again.
This all takes me to a recent editorial in The Boston Globe by Sven Birkerts. Sven, an art critic, writes:
For as exciting as the blogosphere is as a supplement, as a place of provocation and response, it is too fluid in its nature ever to focus our widely diverging cultural energies. A hopscotch through the referential enormity of argument and opinion cannot settle the ground under our feet. To have a sense of where we stand, and to hold not just a number of ideas in common, but also some shared way of presenting those ideas, we continue to need, among many others, The New York Times, the Globe, the Tribune, the LA Times, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
While I don't think that we need any of those institutions in particular, in that it is no given that these news sources will inevitably be here a century from now, the point is that we do still care very much about the validity and reputation of a news source, and even when you move away from print, the brand behind news and commentary still matters very much.