Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The music industry deserves some portion of its ill fortune

It might be foolish to pine for some bygone golden age of journalism - the industry has always had its challenges and its discontents. But one can say that the advent of digital media has done little to improve the journalists' lot. Fewer jobs, less pay and stability for those who remain (unless you're an executive), no separation between work and home life (a condition cemented by the expectation to be always on social media), declining rates for freelancers, and a general societal disregard for the value of journalism - these are the conditions of journalism in the social-media era. For every newly minted digital journalist establishing his personal brand with ten or twenty thousand Twitter followers - with time that could be spent reporting or writing for his employer rather than Twitter Inc - many others face unemployment or a version of the old joke: "Sure, we lose money on every article, but we make it up in volume."[]

The existential anxieties surrounding the journalism profession are real. But the forces of digital disruption don't justify the kinds of cynical plays for attention found here. Journalism's embrace of social media has been accompanied by the adoption of social media's data-driven feedback systems and its privilege of relevancy above all else. The result is a new-media landscape that prefers to give people not what they want but what will keep them on the platform and contentedly clicking. Should this trend continue, journalists may indeed - as many of us fear - find themselves replaced by automated algorithms that synthesize the latest press releases, box score, earnings reports, and crime statistics into articles. If that were to happen, however, we would be forced to admit that the industry deserved some portion of its ill fortune by placing so little value on quality work, originality, and the intelligence of its readers. When a writer becomes simply a fabricator of content, one station of its digital production line, then it is only natural that he, too, will one day be made superfluous
From the chapter 'Churnalism and the Problem of Social News' in Jacob Silverman's Terms of Service.

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