Chicago Sun-Times lays off all of its photographers

Flat, like pancakes (via Wikimedia Commons)

Flat, like pancakes (via Wikimedia Commons)

First, a link to the story.

The Sun-Times is pushing video and pushing iPhones on its reporters to snap quick pics from the scene. On one level this is a case of a craft pressured by the hyperimmediacy of the Internet.

But it’s also another example of how the low-resolution world of digital media tends to flatten out content, yoking it to metrics, and ultimately to business models that closely monetize what the audience consumes. In the digital realm, content often is made to mirror and reflect – rather than inform – as sites where reconstituted audiences are neither here nor there, to evoke Foucault’s account of what lies between utopia and heterotopia. Speed, efficiency, hyperimmediacy at the expense of craft.

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How green was my valley: The ‘toxic’ print, digital divide

Poynter’s Rick Edmonds has a great analysis of this Pew report about the newspaper industry’s search for a new business model.

It’s painfully bleak. So bleak that one executive says the game is over, and no one will innovate now because they don’t want to blamed for the inevitable newspocalypse.

It may be an oversimplification to characterize this as a cultural catastrophe. The news is part of a system, and like any system, we usually only grasp the tip of the iceberg. The problem is, as Bateson might put it, you can’t extrapolate the rest of the iceberg from what you see above the surface. What you see are inevitably partial components of larger, deeper circuits. Economics, reader habits, technologies, broader cultural trends, lunar tides … who can say for sure what newspapers are truly up against. But this Pew study clearly indicates that the hull has been breached.

And still more thoughts on digital adaptation

Then there’s this from GigaOm’s Mathew Ingram.
Here’s the perspective that you aren’t selling news, you’re selling a relationship. This is true, but traditionally this is a relationship based on a contract: I pay you X, and you deliver me news that I can use/trust/enjoy/discuss/etc.
This is the social realm that always surrounds the news. Online, it precipitates as something measured and monetized as the “click.” That’s the issue. In the digital realm, the relationship is much more directly equated with revenue. Suddenly, you can see how much value is placed on the content, and this value is yoked much more tightly to the social. And this social realm now is filled with so much more content. Everyone has so many more news-provider pals. The news consumer is the belle of the ball.
It’s a much dicier proposition for content providers, especially if they are making this content available for free. Not necessarily doomed to fail. Just much dicier.

Thoughts on digital adaptation

From TechCrunch, more musings on the end of print and what newspapers must do to adapt to a world of digital news.
I’m mainly posting this for my own benefit, as a reference point. I think adaptation is a more difficult and complex process than starting fresh. But adaptation also is the nature of the web. What other choice do you have when confronted with something so fluid, chaotic and nomadic? What are the economics of the rhizome?

Boston Courant’s digital ‘bah humbug’

Great article on Nieman Lab about the weekly newspaper Boston Courant, which is in expansion mode, but in print only. In fact, the paper won’t go online until there’s a business model that makes sense. This, despite the fact that 8 years ago the paper paid a Ukrainian developer $50,000 to create a site. To this day, it remains offline.
The article points out that this is a calculation that other small papers are making. Giving content away online looks more like a death knell than salvation for these papers.
I like how this paper’s owner dismisses digital media as “toys,” which means no one has figured out how to turn them into revenue engines.
Is he wrong?

Tarot of the News: What goes around comes around

Tarot card

The Wheel of Fortune

Early on in my study of all things media, I became fascinated with the concept of a tarot of the news. In fact, one of the first papers I wrote was a test run of a thesis proposal entitled “Tarot of the News: Readers, Querents and New Literacy.”
This tarot concept is a way of modeling the feedback loops that occur in digital news. It ended up being the seed for my thesis, which I am presently researching. Of course, the idea has broadened and expanded in many ways. But I still find myself fascinated with what happens in a tarot reading.
To my knowledge, there never has been a good study of the tarot from a media or philosophical perspective. It’s an area that begs for a thorough semiological, structuralist account. After all, a tarot reading is nothing more than the construction of a syntagmatic chain of meaning. What is different about it is that the signifiers themselves are not firmly anchored to their signifieds. “Cat” readily brings to mind a cat. But what does The Magician signify in a tarot reading?
In fact, the entire game of tarot is a fixing of meaning that requires a starting point of ambiguous polysemy. Good readers are skilled in the art of reading other people and using these cues to whittle down the inherent polysemy of the cards and create a meaningful “sentence” in the cards.
How does this apply to the news? It’s an analogy, and any analogy can be pushed too far. However, there are interesting similarities between the environment or ecology of the tarot reading process and the environment/ecology of news production. As always, representation is a problematic. For tarot, the question is does the reading reflect the querent’s life or destiny? For news, does the content accurately or adequately reflect something true about the world?