The Conscripted Fourth Estate
"In old days men had the rack. Now they have the press. That is an improvement certainly. But still it is very bad, and wrong, and demoralizing. Somebody — was it Burke? — called journalism the fourth estate. That was true at the time no doubt. But at the present moment it is the only estate. It has eaten up the other three. The Lords Temporal say nothing, the Lords Spiritual have nothing to say, and the House of Commons has nothing to say and says it. We are dominated by Journalism."Ahh, the good old new days. More and more it feels as if we have been abandoned rather than dominated by Journalism. I'm not talking only about how corporate media refuses to play its role in ensuring our democracy is healthy (How long did it take even the New York Times to offer their milquetoasty criticism of Obama's refusal to try the American war criminals who systematically injected torture-as-policy into our military? [Change you can pass off to the next administration, I guess.] Where are the other news outlets calling for prosecution?), but more about how those in power within the print industry are seemingly content to rearrange the deckchairs as the icy water rises up their pants legs.
—Oscar Wilde, "The Soul of Man", in Guy, Josephine M., Complete Works of Oscar Wilde, IV, Oxford University Press, p. 255
Where's the innovation? Where's the bold new vision and business model that will deliver the NEWS so badly needed to keep things in check? Those who've spent their lives working in print seem resigned to let it all fade away, which is looking inevitable, but that hardly excuses them from leaving the gaping holes that they are behind. Playing catch up with some sparkly new widget-laded website won't cut it, my friends...you must re-conceive and rebuild the models and channels so that they PAY your writers.
Otherwise, those with stories to be told will continue to turn to the unedited pajama media and, as far as I fall in that category, we'll all be the worse for it.
I can't keep track of how many requests I'm getting to review a book, or review a movie, or attend some function, or attend some opening not from an artist or arts writer who notes that they happen to like the blog (thanks, I do appreciate that, and am happy to attend or do what I can), but from non-art specific Public Relations firms who haven't the slightest clue who I am, what this blog is about, or who participates in the threads here. More alarming though are the news tidbits I get sent that truly should go to a journalist (which I am not) to be thoroughly investigated and then written about by the experts.
This growing trend suggests to me a serious void, a paucity of options for those who need to disseminate information. The fact that unedited online channels seem to be growing in popularity as print options are declining is a problem that should be resolved by the professional journalists!!! Get ahead of the curve, please.
Now I know there are bloggers who are also professional journalists and I appreciate (and even like) that that evolution is taking place...it keeps the old guard at the fourth estate on their toes and brings some important, fresh voices to our attention. But the pressure I'm feeling (and I imagine others are too) to go see some movie, for example, that wasn't on my personal must-see list, on my day off (because I know how much hard work goes into making one and I know someone should discuss it [Bambino and I stopped just short of attending one this weekend]) is making me a tad bit resentful. I'm not the person your PR people should be approaching. I assume it's easy enough to ignore such requests, but that doesn't eliminate the sense that I've been conscripted because there aren't enough bodies to fill the demand.
Maybe I'm making too much of this. Perhaps PR firms have always cast their nets widely in seeking press for their clients, and it's no skin off their nose if I ignore their pitches. I can't help but feel, however, that they are actually doing what the press is failing to: scrambling to get out ahead of the curve as the industry evolves...whereas it feels as if too many people in management positions within the traditional press are so mesmerized by those two bright headlights speeding toward them that they can't understand they need to jump out of the way. Or, I suspect, they're too busy sending their resumes out to lobbying firms to care what happens to the industry. Something is amiss...there's a vacuum where the press leadership used to be and all kinds of nonsense is rushing in to fill it.