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Edward Champion: Journalism to the Highest Bidder

Tue, Jun 11, 2002; by Dave Winer.

Via email from Edward Champion,

The relationship between hard money and journalism is closer than you think. One of the reasons I left my gig as disc editor at Maximum PC was because a new policy suddenly called for me to start essentially selling disc space for software demos on the monthly discs. I had substantial reservations about this, since I felt it to be incredibly unethical to write hardware and software reviews for the magazine while simultaneously going out of my way to hustle these guys for cash. (And in at least one case, this crossed over.) In addition, in this new role as marketer/journalist, I would be using all of the contacts that I had built up during the course of my tenure there to not only ask questions about upcoming products and tech developments, but also to sell them space upon the disc.

Oddly enough, the EIC had absolutely no reservations about this sudden change. So we parted ways. I was amazed that the traditional separation between marketing and editorial had suddenly blurred because Imagine Media was running scared, trying to dig themselves out of the hole that they had willingly dug for themselves when they launched thousands of go nowhere magazines.

The magazine markets are hurting badly right now. Just about everyone in the magazine industry has offered the traditional "loss in advertising revenue" as the primary bullshit excuse. But if the magazines actually offered compelling content, if they trimmed out the fat and kept editors and writers who were serious rabble-rousers, if they didn't impose these draconian policies and actually allowed journalists to do their damn jobs without imposing ridiculous limitations because they want to keep a safe relationship with every manufacturer on the market, then not only would journalism be a good deal pithier, but we'd see a muckraking renaissance. But we'll never see that happen again.

Media conglomeration is at least partly responsible for this. The sudden shift of news meant to entertain, rather than inform, is another facet. But when you aggregate viewpoints into the hopeless funnel of one-newspaper towns and a world in which the glorious smartass approach of Mad Magazine is entirely uprooted after being annexed by Time Warner, it seems perfectly clear to me why people are migrating away. I'm not entirely sure that blogs are the answer. But the fact that there are so many of them, expressing so many viewpoints on sundry topics, is at least one substantial part of their popularity. I won't bother to dwell on viewpoints. That's a completely different can of worms altogether.

But it doesn't surprise me that people are starting to reject newspapers, even if the debate on whether Americans actually give a toss about international news remains inconclusive. The only way for the situation to change is if Americans actually understood what constituted a solid overview of events and such a tactic was devised on a mass proportional level. But then very few Americans have had the good fortune to see the difference between a European newscast that summarizes events concisely, with a newscaster professionally reading the stories off of paper, and an American one that's all about personality, bread and circuses, and a Cliff's Notes approach to journalism that, even in a national magazine, fails to implement the three sources = fact rule.


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