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May 17, 2006

A Phantom Is Haunting Cyberspace


Marx was right. It's all about economics. Print publications are asking their staff to contribute to online as well, and the inevitable question comes up: Are we going to be compensated for doing that extra work? And the inevitable answer: no. It already happened some time back. When computers took over the magazines and newspapers, the subtext was that writers and editors were being turned into typesetters -- even as that profession was phased out. Then the online revolution came on full blast and the bosses (full disclosure: sometimes I've been one of them) started toying with going online, with not a thought to paying anyone for it. In the end, they (we) had to pay -- hiring web designers and managers. The working stiffs? No extra pay for them. (Boy, was Marx right!). Add to that the fact that, as Doug and others point out, a) bloggers do it for free (print journalists of the world, maybe we should worry about *them* taking over our jobs instead of the brouhaha about illegal aliens), b) print journalists are badly paid to begin with. With print going out of, well, print and a free workforce out there to write all the news that's fit to blog.... do the math. Perhaps journalism will turn into what academia was in earlier times, when gentlemen scholars taught for free -- or a miniscule honorarium -- at the Ivy League schools.
And speaking of academia, where I've done time, the nature of criticism was discussed -- and dismissed -- there a couple of decades ago, when critical theory (structuralism, semiotics, deconstructivism, etc.) swept over the land, much as blogging swept cyberspace later. The consensus was: criticism has nothing to do with the judgment calls journalistic critics (a term we used pejoratively, also calling the field "naive criticism") made. While some of those esaggerated poses have, mercifully, gone away, there was a point there worth hanging on to. Criticism, which has fallen into the Consumer Reports (hey, I've been relying on their tests and recommendations forever) mold in the popular media, could be something else. Criticism could be stimulating discussions about culture pegged to cultural artifacts or creators. That was the nature of the review/essay that The New York Review of Books did so successfully when it was launched. Such discussions are not free-for-alls, however, which is where I fear online bogs (blogs?) down. It should be both challenging and bringing the reader along for the ride. This is part of the notion of new paradigms for journalism that some of us old-timers have been harping about in this group blog. Perhaps the medium is not the message, to riff on a prophetic voice who was, it's important to note, a serious academic before he became a media guru. Perhaps, it's the content. I return to what I said originally: make criticism more interesting and let's see what happens. Question the assumptions -- of blogs as well as newspapers -- and if they don't hold water, change them. By any means necessary -- oops!, I'm showing my age.

Posted by at May 17, 2006 6:43 AM


The problem is not that journalists (if you can call yourself that) are underpaid. In your case your lucky to have a job: at the Village Voice no one understood a word you said in your lengthy dissertations. At the Daily News you were let go because noone liked your column and you consitenly missed deadlines. Missing deadlines? How about the food book that never saw the light of day. You lived off your mediocre writing wife. Remember when you freaked and left your wife and kids. Man you're a loser and are happy to have a job. For the garbage you write, you should be cleaning bedpans.

Posted by: Lucho at August 24, 2006 12:07 PM

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