That's primarily what I took away from Chicago Media Future this afternoon, that and a dislike of Patrick Spain of Newser.com, who spent his entire time on the afternoon panel making the following assertions:
1. Nobody with fewer than 5 million hits daily is making any money online.
2. Politico has replaced the Washington Post as a source of good political information.
3. HuffPo will replace the New York Times.
4. The New York Times will not exist one year from today.
There's not enough bish please in the whole world for #1, like, tell it to Dooce and the Fug Girls and Nate Silver. If #2 is true I weep for the future because Politico, let's not forget, are the sharp-dressed men who opined that Hurricane Gustav would offer the GOP a "do-over" after Katrina. #3 is unrealistic blogospheric breast-beating. I've been hearing variations of #4 since I was 19 years old and it has yet to come to pass, so I'm posting it in hopes that in a year I can e-mail this post to him and demand an explanation.
I don't want to spend a whole post about the event bitching about some things one guy said (he also mentioned that the Tribune's bankruptcy is proof that print is over, which ... readers of this blog and occupants of that space known as reality know not to be true in the slightest, though it is proof that running your business with your head up your own ass is not advisable) because by and large the thing was kind of fun in that lots of questions were asked to which the answers of the experts was universally, "... erm, fuck if we know."
Which is as it should be. We all just got here. In the lifetime of a new medium we are freaking larval. For people who've been in newspapers for decades to come up and puff out their chests and be all, "Oh yeah, what kind of money do you make, punk?!" is a bit premature. Not to mention which, on balance, the answer is as likely to be "as much as you do, and how are the layoffs treating you?" as it is, "not much, sir, I'm very sorry for existing." If we all had a foolproof way of magically growing money and cotton candy and ponies in our back yards, wouldn't it be kind of creepy? I'm not trying to pass off confusion as some kind of authenticity, I'm saying, give us a minute to collect our belongings.
Dan Sinker of Columbia College made my freaking day by talking a lot about how local papers in Chicago gave up on local news in large parts of the city years ago and that local coverage in the Trib and Sun-Times peaked in 1994, according to this Community Media Workshop study about which I'll probably have a separate post later. And, really. You can claim to be the guardians of our democracy but the argument only works if you actually, you know, do it. Otherwise you're just stroking yourself and while I'm sure it feels nice I'm not particularly interested in listening. I could have stood up and kissed Sinker, too, when he said that any time a new tool is introduced, going all the way back to the radio, people have always panicked about the implications, so everybody calm down.
As the panelists talked about innovation, about making your own site what you want local news to be, someone behind me kept shouting out, "Who pays you while you do it? Who pays the rent?" and it's not that some of the blithe "You just have to work for the love of the story and wait tables if you have to in the meantime until somebody hires you" didn't come off as romanticizing the poverty-stricken artist's life as one somehow more noble than any other. But what I think the panelists were trying to say was something we say around here all the time: If you want things to stop sucking you have to go make them not suck. You can't wait until somebody just hands you a giant platter of not-suck and tells you it's all yours.
You can't just sit back and complain, as we knock on the conservative punditry for doing all the time, that the world doesn't offer you the choices that allow you to be who you want to be. I'm not advocating poverty for anyone. I'm not arguing it's great that for some reason people aren't flinging money at those I know to be talented writers and good solid reporters. What I am saying is that eventually, when you continue to ask that something happen and it doesn't, you either change your strategy or you shut the hell up. Who pays the rent while you figure your shit out? I don't know. And nobody should be asking anyone else to answer that question for them.
Except maybe Patrick Spain. The New York Times' death date is 6/13/10. Somebody should send them a memo, maybe warn them what's coming.
ps. I got kind of annoyed at the end of the thing, because I keep going to these things expecting them to be the Throw The Thieving Bastards in Prison Panel, the You Killed Newspapers On Purpose You Fuckers Symposium, a shame-the-greedy-corporate-assholes party that never really materializes. I think maybe I'm gonna have to host that panel some day, preferably out back of a tavern, with some feathers and a nice hot barrel of tar.