Wired editor Chris Anderson sat down with Spiegel to discuss his outlook on the media world.
The first part of the interview, in which Chris refuses to use traditional terms to describe the product his business produces 24/7 365 days a year, is ridiculous.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Anderson, let’s talk about the future of journalism.
Anderson: This is going to be a very annoying interview. I don’t use the word journalism.
Um, OK. So Wired doesn’t produce journalism? What does it produce, then? In any event, other people use the word “journalism.” And Chris presumably knows what other people mean when they say “journalism.” So is it so unreasonably to inquire about the future of it?
SPIEGEL: OK, how about newspapers? They are in deep trouble both in the United States and worldwide.
Anderson: Sorry, I don’t use the word media. I don’t use the word news. I don’t think that those words mean anything anymore. They defined publishing in the 20th century. Today, they are a barrier. They are standing in our way, like a horseless carriage.
The question was about “newspapers,” not “media.” Or “news.” But thanks for sharing.
SPIEGEL: Which other words would you use?
Anderson: There are no other words. We’re in one of those strange eras where the words of the last century don’t have meaning. What does news mean to you, when the vast majority of news is created by amateurs? Is news coming from a newspaper, or a news group or a friend? I just cannot come up with a definition for those words. Here at Wired, we stopped using them.
Sorry, that’s just ridiculous. The vast majority of news may be passed on by amateurs (the same way it always has been), but it isn’t “created” by amateurs. Bloomberg, Reuters, CNN, AP, and dozens of other professional organisations create news all day long (and some of them aren’t even going out of business). If Wired refuses to use the word “news,” what does Wired call it when Wired learns something that no one knows yet that might be interesting to Wired readers? “Something that no one knows yet that might be interesting to Wired readers”? Would Chris mind if we just shortened that to “news”?
Fortunately, as the interview goes on, Chris begins to redeem himself (and the future of Wired begins to look less bleak):
SPIEGEL: Hang on a minute. So-called citizen journalists and bloggers have changed the meaning of “media.” But without the traditional news media they wouldn’t actually have much to do. Most of the amateurs comment on what the quality press report. So did you read a newspaper this morning?
SPIEGEL: Your local newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle, is fighting for survival. If it was to disappear tomorrow …
Anderson: … I wouldn’t notice. I don’t even know what I’d be missing.
SPIEGEL: So how do you stay informed?
Anderson: It comes to me in many ways: via Twitter, it shows up in my inbox, it shows up in my RSS base, through conversations. I don’t go out looking for it.
SPIEGEL: You just don’t care.
Anderson: No, I do care. You know, I pick my sources, and I trust my sources.
SPIEGEL: As millions upon millions trusted the classic media previously.
Anderson: If something has happened in the world that’s important, I’ll hear about it. I heard about the protests in Iran before it was in the papers because the people who I subscribe to on Twitter care about those things.
SPIEGEL: The New York Times, CNN, Reuters and others can publish their best reporting on the Web and you’d never read it?
Anderson: I read lots of articles from mainstream media but I don’t go to mainstream media directly to read it. It comes to me, which is really quite common these days. More and more people are choosing social filters for their news rather than professional filters. We’re tuning out television news, we’re tuning out newspapers. And we still hear about the important stuff, it’s just that it’s not like this drumbeat of bad news. It’s news that matters. I figure by the time something gets to me it’s been vetted by those I trust. So the stupid stuff that doesn’t matter is not going to get to me.
So news creators DO matter. And, lo and behold, they’re not all amateurs. The amateurs are mostly spreading the news, the same way they always have (only a heck of a lot more efficiently). So what we’re really talking about here is news distribution, not news creation.
SPIEGEL:But you could also describe the endless stream of words coming from Twitter as stupid. Limited as they are to 140 characters, Twitter messages result in this mad, unfiltered and unproven impression of what is going on. The twittering can’t be any kind of replacement for fast, comprehensive, and thoroughly researched reports and analysis from quality media. And with all due respect, you’re producing this yourself. You’re a member of the news media, you’re working for a magazine, you’re doing interviews and you’re creating news — or information, or content or whatever you want to call it.
Anderson: True. But the problem is not that the traditional way of writing articles isn’t valuable anymore. The problem is that this is now in the minority. It used to be a monopoly, it used to be the only way to distribute news.
Wait! Chris just used the word “news”!
SPIEGEL: Because media companies used to control the printing presses and the airwaves?
Anderson: Exactly. So now that you don’t need this access to a commercial channel to distribute (news), anyone can do it. What we do is still useful but what other people do is equally useful. I don’t think our way is the most important and it is certainly not the only way of conveying information. So this is why we’re in a funny phase. It’s going to take us a decade or two to figure out what it is we’re doing.
SPIEGEL:But even with this infatuation for new formats and Internet-based media, the demand for quality journalism is growing rather than shrinking. The online media has won over a huge, new audience. And for all the talk of the press becoming extinct, circulations have remained remarkably stable. The problem is the drop in advertising revenues.
Anderson: Newspapers are not important. It may be that their physical, printed form no longer works. But the process of compiling information and analysing it, and adding value to it and distributing it, still works.
Um, you mean “journalism”? And the gathering and creating of “news”?
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