March 10, 2009
How Will We Honor Great Editorial Heros in Fifty Years?
His story was told in the film, "The Last Editor," which a friend of mine produced. Bellows built a career resuscitating underdog newspapers in New York, Washington and Los Angeles. Along the way, he helped turn Tom Wolfe and Jimmy Breslin into stars.
He was known for transforming papers into showcases of "sophisticated writing and spunky reporting that often shamed their more formidable rivals."
While I'm thrilled about the "anyone can be a writer and creator on-the-web" revolution, I wonder what the mentality of the next generation online media empire will look like - after the current transitional eyeball 'reads' merge into something new.
Some will transition into a format and style we'll need and want a decade from now, others will die in the fray because of chaotic format and style or worse, sloppy content, or what Bellows couldn't stand: dullness and complacency.
A new model will need to pay for writers' travel to war zones, insurance and their protection on the ground. And, old fashioned photojournalism is changing. We have so much more to choose from now which is a godsend for people like me who love to shoot. That said, remember that famous war photo taken in Times Square? Or the most Princess of Princess shots of Lady Di?
Incredible breathtaking photos will emerge but differently - they'll be found through communities all over the web, voted upon and submitted to high traffic sites so the masses who didn't find them in the world of the Long Tail will see them too. Those who don't spend hours surfing Flickr, Google Photos or Smugmug will see them elsewhere, later on.
Jeff Jarvis writes in his latest book What Would Google Do that Flickr "measures the interactions-- commenting, emailing, tagging and linking that occur around a photo" to bring it to the top of the pile. Secondly, "they map all these actions to see which users turn out to be hubs of activity." While that may be true and I have found some gorgeous photos on Flickr, its a different experience than looking at one-shot "war photo" wonder. Which one is better?
They're entirely different experiences, so its hard to say. Was life better when we only had chocolate, vanilla and strawberry ice cream or is it better today when we have 40+ choices in our local ice cream shop? Too much choice is dizzying for me, a marvel for others. Sometimes I just want it simple baby. And sometimes, I really want more choice, when fewer options spell mediocrity and bland.
Driving from Boston to upstate New York which I used to do often, I used to have independent restaurant options to choose from and then it moved to Burger King or McDonalds - progress doesn't always mean more choices with better quality. Sometimes people choose based on convenience and speed rather than quality, particularly in the states. It's what we value as a "culture" that rises to the top, and its not always quality.
Bellows belief about media in the old guard: the main job of newspapers was to "print the news and raise hell." Who will be the Bellows of the blogosphere in fifty or sixty years?
There are countless other Bellows we'll honor by the time the old-school newspaper editors pass on, but for top-tier kudos, its necessary to earn that respect over and over again. Just like a good CEO. No one wants a one night stand, a one-off great party you can't repeat a year later or ever again.
He was given sloppy editorial because it was dull and mediocre, had no meat or inaccurate and had to turn it into something compelling again and again.
Everything is emerging and merging so quickly and we don't have sixty years of earned respect from the new guard which may be your next door neighbor in two years time.
I wonder what future legacy stories will read like, where we'll read them and how they'll share them in fifty years given the pace we're moving on the web? Those who have played with Apture will see one such way viewing information is changing, simplifying and merging in an elegantly organized way.
There's so much more content and more of it being added everyday, we'll need 100x or is it 1000x or more Bellows in the world to give us the best of the best. Communities will vote so we'll get local and interesting Long Tail or interest specific content in a way we never thought possible thirty years ago. Invaluable. And some of the garbage will fall to the bottom like it always does.
Great will rise to the top yet some of it will get buried and hopefully the new media generation Bellows of the world will dig them out and feed them to us everywhere we are no matter where we are in the world. Even Jarvis who's a fan of more choice and keeping everything open agrees that Google can't and shouldn't do it all. He says, "we will still need curators, editors, teachers -- and ad salespeople -- to find and nurture the best."
New media isn't just about social communities and search engines. Twitter will not be Twitter as we know it in fifty years nor will Facebook, our blogs or YouTube. But we'll be fed the best of the best by someone or a set of someones in whatever way and wherever we want it. Customized, filtered and highly personalized will be king. It will have to be.
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