Friday, April 04, 2014

The value of journalism and film writing

Prominent film critic Matt Zoller Seitz just wrote a blog post in reaction to the firing of long-standing Entertainment Weekly film critic Owen Gilberman that is a must read for anyone trying to understand how the age of new media is detrimental to our society.

I've long written and advocated for greater awareness among consumers about that state of journalism and magazine writing today, and it's a highly welcome addition to have someone like Matt Zoller Seitz taking up the fight.

I often ask myself why I do what I do (freelance as a journalist and writer) when it doesn't pay as much as a standard 9-5 job in the government or some non-profit or government contractor.

I live in Washington D.C., a town where people seem to all work in labyrinthine series of organization each designed to compete against each other for defense contracts and lobbying influence. I've dabbled in that world and for simple tasks like building spreadsheets, performing quality control, and keeping track of donor lists one could make a lot more money than I'm making now. 

I'm not suggesting that holding titles and fighting for your next GS grade couldn't be meaningful under the right circumstances. But at the end of the day, I think what I do is important. Journalism and even culture writing has been an essential part of American society since it was founded. Thomas Jefferson once said, "If I had to choose between government without newspapers, and newspapers without government, I wouldn't hesitate to choose the latter." 

I do see the industry changing and getting worse, but I don't believe that's the fault of journalism itself. 

That is the popular mantra these days: That the media is not doing their jobs correctly. One of our most popular comedians, Jon Stewart, is regarded as the "voice of our generation" and he spends every day "exposing" the media as an incompetent circus of clowns through clever editing. It's a comedy gag, but no one seems to question Stewart or ask whether he would do a better job running CNN. I've heard more people saying "I don't read the Washington Post anymore because it's awful"  than I've heard people who can legitimately tell me where the paper is at fault.

Even worse, people don't seem to take into account that the paper has less resources than it used to. We didn't complain some years ago when airplanes started charging us for meals because we knew that profit margins are thin. 

Andrew Keen, someone who has profoundly influenced my way of thinking on this topic, wrote the Cult of the Amateur approximately 8 years ago in which he argued that Web 2.0 was eroding civilization. He argues that our economies have simultaneously been reconstructed to value knowledge-based industries while driving a wedge between the makers of knowledge and their work through web 2.0 which encourages anonymity and discouraging people to pay for knowledge. 

Keen argues that the only way this current state of chaos will finally end when society as a whole recognizes the value of knowledge again. I agree and think that we have to preach to the consumers of art and encourage them to pay for what they consume. After all, it's not out of our realm of thinking to recognize the value of someone else's work and voluntarily compensate them for it. We are in the practice of tipping waitresses. We do this because we recognize the value of their work and feel they deserve money for it. If we can recognize the value of someone whose job consists of picking up a plate of food and dropping it off somewhere else, why can't we recognize the value of people who tirelessly work to collect stories to keep us apprised of news or write things we enjoy reading. 

Seitz is starting to come to this conclusion as well that my generation has been spoiled to expect that writing should be free. I couldn't agree more. 

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