Not Whose News, but Whose Stories March 4, 2005/in Blogs Internet and New Media /by emptywheel https://www.emptywheel.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/Logo-Web.png 0 0 emptywheel https://www.emptywheel.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/Logo-Web.png emptywheel2005-03-04 22:33:002005-03-04 22:33:00Not Whose News, but Whose Stories
Many interesting thoughts, very worth pondering. I believe youâ€™re right that many modern papers do little real storytelling, and what little they attempt is not very edifying (stories about accidents and crimes arenâ€™t uncommon, but what is the reader to make of them in all their randomness?).
Perhaps the most interesting stories in my local paper (Allentown Morning Call) are obituaries. These stories usually are not well told, but the details are very telling about what the deceased once told about themselves, or what others heard, or what family would like the public to know about why the deceasedâ€™s life mattered. Itâ€™s rather a sad commentary on the current newspaper, when these awkward, formulaic, mass-produced stories are the best they produce.
I think it used to be more common, up until about the 1960s, to have regular columnists who were given free reign to tell anecdotes about city life. Often they would produce several brief stories per column. But today, the columnists (such as they are) tend to devote all their space to a single issue, and itâ€™s usually issues rather than stories that they present. Itâ€™s the rare newspaper column that tells a story well. In fact itâ€™s so rare that I generally read any that I come across through to the end, whether or not the story interests me, whether or not it is well told.
I like the next hurrahâ€¦itâ€™s one of the few places where youâ€™ll find diaries such as this. Iâ€™ll keep checking in regularly.
Two significant differences between print journalism in the 1930â€™s through WWII and today strike me as significant.
Because that era was Pre-TV, journalists were obliged to set the scene â€” to describe place and individual characters in stories. In any story-telling venture, such description is a critical part of the presentation â€” but post TV it was assumed the reader had watched clips, and much description was removed from stories. If you want to make the contrast yourself, look for old reportage of the CIO organizing strikes in the 1930â€™s, and compare the print version of these with Civil Rights stories after the sit-inâ€™s began in 1960. The need for scene-setting and character description simply vanishes.
A second change is in style. When Newspapers had a number of editions, it was assumed stories might change as new facts emerged between editions. Thus frequently in the body of a story the history of the story would be re-told, so as to position new or changed facts in context. In many ways that forced reporters to be much more historical â€” to quote old clips from previous stories, or simply to relate current happenings to a deeper history. I suspect it is less competition and fewer editions that forced the style change to storytelling only when the story seems complete. But the impact is to totally de-emphasize history.
Perhaps in the long run the distinction between old media and new media misses the point, but I think in the recent (or ongoing) Gannon story that distinction is the point. I thnk that distinction rather than bias is why so much of the traditional media has failed to carry the story.
The story begins with the clip of Gannonâ€™s press conference question. Old media can show (TV) play (radio) or describe (print) that clip, but to appreciate the real story I think you had to see it on The Daily Show (which, despite being on an old medium is new media to some extent). John Stewart can tell that story in a way that Peter Jennings canâ€™t – Stewart isnâ€™t restricted by considerations of â€objectivityâ€ and â€balanceâ€.
The story in its entirety is really only successful in a medium like the â€™net however. Iâ€™ll assume blogs = â€™net, but that isnâ€™t the whole thing. First, blogs can link or show the clip (sound or video) and can comment on it. People accustomed to blogs donâ€™t see Talon News as anything more than another blog, and they know how easy it is to set one of those up; traditional media, if they donâ€™t look closely, see Talon News as another journalistic institution, more on a par with the NYT.
Old media is broadcast transmission – information flows one way. Itâ€™s unlikely that old media consumers will get together to extend the story, and to do that, theyâ€™d have to spend hours in a library or newspaper morgue, or be in DC. Blogging is multicast – every one can transmit and receive, so a â€blogswarmâ€ can form and the same medium can be used to do much of the research (it helps in this case that much of the story actually resides on the â€™net as well, but I donâ€™t think thatâ€™s a necessary condition).
Unlike print or traditional electronic media, blogging has an advantage of something like a math book with the answers to the problems in the back of the book. Users donâ€™t have to trust their own judgment or the storytellerâ€™s, because they can search out some of the information themselves. Similarly, the information conveyed is more â€objectiveâ€ because you can use the medium itself to immediately verify the information presented.
Once again, blogs can provide the new information (photos, porn sites) with a latency that traditional electronic media canâ€™t afford along with repetition – on TV or radio you get the photo or clip for an instant and when itâ€™s gone itâ€™s gone. On the â€™net the viewing time is longer and the images are available on demand. Print media canâ€™t afford to provide all of the information the â€™net can provide, or afford to provide the â€rawâ€ information in this case either.
So in this instance, blogging or the â€™net provides a medium that has considerably more impact than any of the traditional media could have in this case.
Perhaps the distinction between new and old media isnâ€™t important if we continue to use the modes of storytelling that the old media define. As blogging finds new ways to tell stories, and accumulates the circulation or viewership thatâ€™s the old mediaâ€™s current advantage, the distinction will become more significant, as it was with the Gannon story.
Saraâ€“Excellent points, I think youâ€™re right (although some coverage in the 1930s assumes people have seen a movie image of the thing in questionâ€¦)
Iâ€™d make two caveats. Dan Froomkin was on Gannonâ€™s trail long before Jon Stewart was. He didnâ€™t get that far, but he had written two or three stories about what a shill Gannon was.
Also, there are SOME examples of â€blogswarmâ€ type activities in written documents, but not many. I worked on a 19th C. serial novel the author of which received thousands of letters (the good ones have been saved, and they number 1300). The author used the letters as leads and, at times, he integrated them wholesale into the text. So thatâ€™s one example, but there are more.
But a lot of what youâ€™re talking about goes to the close (but not determinative) connection between a medium and the kinds of narrative you can tell in that medium. I think the form of narrative for the Internet(s) is still being matured.
Yeah, I didnâ€™t mean to imply that Jon Stewart originated the story, but just that it gained a lot more traction in his medium than in a medium like Froomkinâ€™s.
There are lots of examples of things that are â€blog-likeâ€: I saw Berkeley Breathed give a multimedia presentation that was really cool, or I had a course where we had â€ordinaryâ€ people speak and do Q&A once a week (a black, a Hispanic, a polio victim, a kid who had fought with the Sandinistas at age 12, a Sikh, a survivor of the SF earthquake) that was really compelling.
The Internet medium though subsumes all of the traditional and even much of the non-traditional media, and on a continual, not exceptional, basis. I can usually find one or two diaries on dKos every day that are as good or better than what I can find in traditional print media or from the electronic punditocracy or at the very least, different. In addition I can still find the audio or video content of the traditional electronic media, but on my terms and not theirs. I can also find flash animations and ordinary people telling their stories and I believe there have been examples of collaborative writing as well (certainly open source software is, and some of that isnâ€™t very different from fiction).
Like the traditional media, the â€™net is still a mediated experience and no substitute for human interaction, but itâ€™s a giant step closer to real interaction than the broadcast forms. Itâ€™s less likely to ignore stories that donâ€™t â€fitâ€ the older media well, or even invent itâ€™s own modes to tell new kinds of stories.
It isnâ€™t just that this medium is â€newâ€ or â€technoâ€ either. In many ways itâ€™s a return to the past – things like town meetings, Lyceum or Chataqua or just meeting your neighbors on the public square. Itâ€™s somewhat odd that the almost pinnacle of impersonal modern tech is also in part a return to human scale institutions.
Thank you for an interesting and reflective article. I love story and you reminded me to incorporate it in more of my teaching.