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MC at USF Campus to Discuss “Media in Our Modern World”

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I visited the USF/Sarasota campus the other day (Tuesday, February 3) to speak to a class on “Media in Our Modern World.” The class is taught by Jim Brown, a former mayor of Sarasota and longtime journalist whose work appears, I believe, every other week in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. (Editor’s note: see correction in blog comments.)

The class was full of sharp, informed students of varied ages who pummeled me, albeit nicely, on all things blogosphere-related, and then some. I was able to give them my perspective and answer most, if not all, the questions — I enjoyed the dialog immensely and hope they did as well.

What did we talk about? Well, for one, a lot of people have a fear – a healthy one in my book – that there’s too much opinion and not enough researched fact in the blogosphere. There’s some truth to that, of course. But I think we all have to open our eyes to the fact that fewer newspapers employ fact-checkers anymore. It’s my impression that reputable blog sites — just like reputable print publications — source their stories (that’s why you see blog posts peppered with hyperlinks).

And, there’s a growing number of blog sites devoted simply to the act of fact-checking among other things, main stream media — i.e., Factcheck.org; the smoking gun.com, just to name a couple.

People have to be as discriminating in which online blogs and posts they read as they are when choosing a newspaper at a newsstand. If you see a paper with scantily clad women and blaring headlines about sex lies and videotape, well, you get what you pay for.

It’s the same with an online column or blog – if you see whacked writing, lots of typos and never any sourcing, well, depending on the site and what it’s for, it might not be a worthwhile news source.

But people aren’t necessarily going to blogs for fact-based stories. We’re a nation hungry for ideas. Hungry for critical thinking because we are so rarely getting it in any relevant form in our daily mainstream media.

Some people criticize blogging as dumbing down and I don’t deny that there’s a lot of truth in that. I had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the blogosphere because I’m an old-fashion, print-on-my-hands kind of woman. But the dumbing down of news didn’t start on the Internet — it started at mainstream newspapers who made it a policy to use words that the average fifth-grader could understand or offered nauseatingly nonstop coverage of stories about American Idol over the study of American idolatry.

People – particularly talking about people here in Sarasota — want to think. They want to be provoked with intelligent ideas and even occasional controversy – but instead they’re spoonfed endless stories about someone like American Idol contestant Syesha Mercado – often on the front page – and denied even the smallest coverage of filmmaker Spike Lee’s visit to Sarasota last year.

Noam Chomsky, wrote back in 1997 about what was happening at newspapers where editors and owners were shifting their business strategy from creating a product called a newspaper – for a consumer called an audience – to a strategy of creating a product called an audience for a consumer called the advertiser.

Once they made that conscious decision, I think newspapers’ days were numbered.

Because it boils down to this: newspaper readers aren’t stupid, they know when they’re being sold out.

I saw that with what happened at the Pelican Press.

The insistence on “local” content – an editor in today’s world, who insists on repeating that mantra may as well just take a gun out now and put a bullet through their newspaper because it’s dead.

There is no local content any longer. The Internet has obliterated that concept. We’re a global community for some years now. There’s local, of course, but not without the global perspective.

Local writers however — and how natural that I would have this position — are essential to hometown or area newspapers for the same reasons that people are flocking to blogs.

People crave that connection of having a writer – online or in print – that they can go to time after time — that’s the beauty and the attraction of blogs. They get to know a personality and like it and return time after time.

I think newspaper editors have forgotten this long-held maxim of newspaper publishing — that readers have to feel a connection, whether it’s love or hate, with their local newspaper writers and columnists — just like they have for the hometown sports teams. It’s not enough to import national opinion makers from NYC and DC or pull someone smart down from the AP wire.

People want local opinion makers so they can love ’em or hate ’em. Readers want to pick up a local paper and have something — some local someone — to get bent out of shape about or laugh about or talk to their coworkers or spouse about. But you know what? Give them that, and they’ll keep buying and keep reading newspapers.

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Posted on February 10th, 2009Comments RSS Feed
2 Responses to MC at USF Campus to Discuss “Media in Our Modern World”
  1. […] MC Coolidge talks to USF students about journalism in the Age of the Blog. Definitely worth reading. My big question, […]

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  2. A sharp-eyed reader pointed out to me that Jim Brown was not a prior mayor of Sarasota, but was, in fact, a prior Mayor of the Town of Longboat Key. Thanks for reading the blog, and for correcting me! Much appreciated. MC

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