Slate is getting a lot of press, largely because milquetoast standard-bearer Michael Kinsley is doing a lot of yapping.
And the press is yet again, interminably, forever, repeating the meme that Content is Dead. Well, big-budget content may be bleeding a bit, but you don’t need a big budget to do good stuff online. Why is it invariably the small sites that end up explaining why small sites are the soul o’ the net? (Zeldman did a hell of a job for Photo District News, actually. But we need Larry King saying this.)
Kathleen Quinn prophesies that Bill Gates will “pull the plug at the least personally embarrassing (and least contractually painful) moment.” Online news is pretty much a losing proposition, she says.
[T]he job of being journalism’s flame keeper still falls to print newspapers, with their solid foundation of local advertising, and to those few remaining national news outlets that are subsidized. Original, quality journalism on the Web simply falls between the cracks: It’s too general in content and its audience too dispersed to attract the local or niche advertiser, yet it’s too elitist and too complicated for users to access to attract the national advertiser. [...] Web journalism is racing to become exactly what it ran away from: televised infotainment. If the infrastructure is put in place to deliver broadcast-quality imagery instantaneously over the Internet, the road ahead for journalists will turn out to be a circular driveway, taking us back to where we started.
At that point, television and Internet will be one and the same thing. Not that we haven’t hacked that subject to death already (alpha, beta). Print news online, and even audio news online, are cheap.
And anyway, Soundbitten pretty much wipes the floor with Quinn:
Quinn relies upon flawed generalizations (i.e., Salon and Slate are sufficiently representative of Web journalism, or even “quality Web journalism”) and bad analogies (while Slate and Salon cover some of the same subjects as [uppercrust print mags], they are much different in terms of execution, functionality, and tone.) Also, she cites absolutely no statistics to lend her theories quantitative credence, which we imagine is why Interactive Week has labeled her piece a “Special Report” rather than, say, “Quality Web Journalism.” Ultimately, however, there is some truth in what Quinn says. To attract a big audience on the Web, you generally need a big staff. And then once you have that big staff, you absolutely have to attract a big audience to support it. Alas, while the Internet is a powerful new medium, it has not yet proven hat it is so powerful it can radically increase the general public’s appetite for “quality journalism.” But the fact that some people have finally begun to understand this basic premise doesn’t spell the death of “quality Web journalism,” just the death of the hype surrounding it.
Posted on 2000-08-30