I have a confession to make: I rarely watch TV news. You wouldn’t either if you spent the whole day churning out the damn stuff. Or maybe you would. I have co-workers who never miss a newscast, bouncing from station to station to see who got what when and where. Not me. Between the demands of my young family and the chronic laptop addiction, I find I have very little time for the neighborhood logo parade once my brain is off the clock. That’s not to say there isn’t material worth my viewing. Wedged betwixt all that tripe and banality, a smattering of viable storytelling is readily available for my evening consumption. I just rarely have the appetite anymore.
It’s the same with the paper. A fresh copy of the N&R hits my driveway before dawn every day, but I can barely manage a cursory swipe of the headlines before relegating all that hard-earned journalism to the laundry room recycling pile. Since I jockey for position with local newspaper photogs, I do make it a point to admire the work of the many stills-shooters I run into in the field (the nicest of which is hands-down Nelson Kepley). More often than not the front page offers photographic evidence of an assignment I covered twenty-four hours earlier or an article foreshadowing something I’ll soon point a camera at myself. For those reasons, I have only the slightest flirtation with the local rag - er, newspaper.
Still, this isn’t a hit piece on the local media. For the record, I recommend everyone read their daily newspaper from beginning to end, but only after a hefty regiment of locally produced broadcast news (exclusively on station’s with names that end in “8“). No, my beef with the Fourth Estate is mainly one of convenience, or rather the lack thereof. As loyal as I try to be, it’s hard to rely on my remote control (buried in a couch-cushion) or my home-delivered newsprint (scattered across three rooms) to keep me informed when I can reach over to the nearest mouse and fill a screen with highly customizable, up to the second, text-heavy and picture-rich coverage that more resembles an encyclopedia than a daily digest.
It doesn’t take a Rhodes Scholar to determine which form of media will attract the most modern day-eyeballs; even this undereducated lenslinger figured it out. For a couple of years now, I’ve thought about this great splintering of formats and wondered what effect it will have on my job, as well as my children’s world. I’m no oracle, but I bet when my daughters are grown, leafing through a newspaper or waiting on a newscast will seem as archaic as those shimmering daguerreotypes from photography’s infancy feel today. But this seismic shift in the way we digest news has less to do with the way current events will be captured and a lot more to do with they way they’re delivered. Though I have long wrestled with these inevitabilities, I’ve yet to have a name to wrap around the concept - until now, thanks to a visionary article by Eric Deggans of the St. Petersburg times.
In it, Deggans discusses the not-so-new trend of ‘news-grazing’- a practice in which the news consumer culls bits and pieces of interesting data from the global smorgasbord of information available 24/7. In his own words:
"Today's media consumers increasingly expect an on-demand universe, where podcasts enable commuters to download audio versions of newspaper headlines and video on-demand services allow digital cable TV subscribers to see missed episodes of their favorite series at any time. It's as if we spent 80 years assembling the largest mass audience in the history of the world, only to spend the next 20 years taking it all apart again."
Deggans’ article also examines the implications of all this isolated news intake, and ponders what effect it may have on society as a whole. After all, how will people of differing stripes and persuasions get along when we lack the common viewpoints provided by a mainstream media? As for me, I’ll be okay. I have a feeling there will always be a demand for the skilled image procurer, whether the finished product appears on a nightly newscast, cell-phone, Blackberry or a yet-to-be-invented eyelid chip. Either way, I’ll probably be squinting through a viewfinder well into the future - or at least until we bloggers figure out how to get rich off our midnight ramblings. Wish us luck.
(A dip of the lens to Neill McNeill for first bringing this article to my attention and suggesting I write about it. That’s twice now in the past week that my main anchor has orchestrated a particular dissertation for my humble site. If I didn’t know better, I’d count him among my half dozen faithful readers. Also, check out Greensboro News and Record Editor John Robinson’s blog for an honest take on what all this media convergence and audience splintering means to the newspaper business. A fascinating take from the other side of the fence...)