Hold the front page – on second thoughts, don’t bother. There won’t be one to hold much longer. That bloody web thingy has eaten our journalists. Everything we hold dear – the right to be told what to think by poker-arsed blowhards in the pay of Illuminati kingmakers, fed and watered by PR lizards in the pay of big business – has been stolen by . . . . Market Forces.
60 million oiky bloggers, ranting on about whatever takes their fancy are about as welcome in the Press Club as crowd surfers at Glyndebourne. Very few, if any, are paid. Yet if only friends and family sneak a glance, they command a daily audience of 1 billion, dwarfing conventional media. Their crazed jibber-jabber, plus the content which, lemming-like, paid-for news periodicals put up for free on their own websites, is aggregated and distributed free by Google, consequentially the world’s most profitable advertising medium. Like medieval scribes after Gutenberg invented the printing press, professional hacks face a long period of silent contemplation unless someone works out a way to ‘monetise’ online news and comment.
The chatterati have belatedly awoken to the enemy at the gates, and have realised that in as little as five years their weekends will be ruined. No more vapid travel and lifestyle sections, ‘how to spend it’ supplements, random ‘careers’ articles scarcely serving as a pretext for pages filled with public sector non-jobs and fantasy financial planning advice pages doing the same for the benefit of kleptocratic investment funds. What will they carry under their arms to that charming sidewalk cafe to sit in half-rimmed glasses eating croissants avec du buerre, assuming Left Bank insouciance? It’s just not the same in an internet cafe – terrorist types in plywood cubicles and no coffee, much less macchiato. At a pinch they could carry Airbook Macs to Starbucks, but that would risk being mistaken for geeks. Some will have to let the butler go. Have you tried ironing a laptop?
But there are serious consequences to the decline in the economics of generating ’serious’ news. A Senate Committee on Capitol Hill on May 8 heard David Simon, creator of The Wire, the chatterati’s favourite cop series, intone that ‘citizen journalists’ were overwhelmingly parasites, not creators, of news and opinion, with neither method, respect for fact nor investigative rigour. If newshounds are no longer trained, fed and watered by oligarchs or P+G advertising budgets there will be no more brave men, women and unpaid interns striding through the jungles of Cambodia or Baltimore with cameras slung round their necks (or surveillance equipment) sniffing out wrongdoing or writing travel features. With no news, parasite bloggers will have nothing to rant about, the argument goes. Well, enough already with the Bernstein and Woodward. We all know that without the Washington Post, there would have been no Watergate enquiry. We also know that if nobody pays Dave Bloke of the paparazzi we won’t see another snatch shot of Britney in the shower. Without Professor Brainiac and the WHO we will all be dead before we know that 500,000 of us should be dead by now of Swine Flu. The media is itself parasitical. Now there are ticks on the ticks.