Last night a bunch of people who work in mainstream media arbitrarily divided themselves in half in order to argue over the vague, meaningless proposition, "Good Riddance to Mainstream Media." It was great fun to watch. Fake issue, real animosity!
Representing the "Mainstream media" were SF Chronicle editor Phil Bronstein, NYT media columnist David Carr, and Nation editor Katrina Vanden Heuvel. Representing the "New media" were public radio's John Hockenberry, Politico founder Jim Vandehei, and Vanity Fair columnist and author and Newser yakker Michael Wolff.
Notice anything? That's right, all of these people work in the "mainstream media." Politico, which was cast as some new media vanguard, is a print newspaper with a website. So is the New York Times. And the SF Chronicle! Which led to the main problem of the evening: the entire "debate" was semantic. Panelists spent much time declaring what they weren't arguing against: great journalism, democracy, freedom, media jobs, economic success, etc. That's because they were all on the same side, in reality. They are media people who would like to remain employed somehow, like everyone else. If the proposition had been "Good riddance to print as a medium," or "Good riddance to newspapers," it would have at least been intelligible and debatable; as it was, you had the "New media" people declaring that the way they did things was faster and smarter and more democratic, and then the "Mainstream media" people saying they also did things the same way, so what the hey were they even arguing about? I don't know.
Which is not to say it was not an entertaining evening! Mostly because of the sniping between Michael Wolff and David Carr, who have a history of mutual dislike. Carr gently pointed out that Michael Wolff was arguing for the abolition of the NYT while simultaneously running a website full of NYT excerpts; Wolff said all of Carr's stories are too long, anyhow.
Michael Wolff does not have a winning personality. He whines, he gesticulates annoyingly, he takes obviously ridiculous positions for the purpose of drawing attention to himself. He is a hypocrite, and sometimes embraces his own hypocrisy to, yes, draw attention to himself. That said, Michael Wolff is not afraid to be brutally honest. Which is something media reporting needs! He demonstrated that last night when—after a question from a Hearst lawyer in the audience, and while sitting on a stage with Phil Bronstein, editor of a Hearst paper—Wolff said (we're paraphrasing) "People don't like to say this in polite company, but Hearst's newspapers are really bad. So who cares if you go out of business?"
It's true! Props to you for that, Michael Wolff, you generally grating man.
But he got got, in the end. In Carr's closing statement, he whipped out a printout of Newser's front page. It's a cool site, check it out, yada yada yada, he said. Then Carr pulled out his show-and-tell version of Newser after the "Mainstream media" had been abolished. It was the same printout, full of holes, with every story painstakingly cut out.
Mainstream media is just new media that figured out how not to go out of business. Let's spend our time arguing about important things: Where to get a job.