Readings: Garrulous Luddites, hyperlocal hyperventilating, going viral and the joys of vinyl

Arts journalist Bill Wyman’s tough-minded series on Splice Today this week about “Why Newspapers Are Failing” leads off a weekend long-form reading list on topics related to journalism, the media and the Web.

In his first installment, Wyman takes his own profession to task for being too sentimental and naïve about the newspaper industry while ignoring the habits, assumptions and practices that have led to its steep decline:

“If the media doesn’t understand the issues that have actually put it into the precarious position it’s in, how can it survive?”

In the series finale Wyman — who for a while worked at my former newspaper as well as Salon and NPR — says newspaper journalists need to ditch their institutional timidity as well as the “garrulous Ludditism” that too many still hold dear:

“The attitude ate journalism away from the inside in two ways: It put journalists physically and psychologically out of touch with society and hampered its coverage; and it devolved into a head-in-the-sand response to the challenges facing the industry. . . . The truth is, newsroom staffs are permeated with fear of change and a discomfort with new technology.”

Wyman eviscerates newspaper Web sites, which he says serve their companies at the expense of readers, and offers up some suggestions for improvement that I really wonder will ever be followed:

“Serve the community. Don’t publish crap. Tell folks stuff they might not want to hear. Grow a pair.”

• Wyman isn’t the first to suggest that news organizations go “hyperlocal” as they reinvent themselves. Online journalism gurus have long been hailing this approach as a surefire way to replace what’s draining out of daily newspapers. But Fast Company’s Michael Gluckstadt casts a gimlet eye, because of previously failed advertising models as well as the constant evangelizing:

“The future of hyperlocal — according to the people who have studied, lived, and championed it — seems to be in convincing others that hyperlocal is the future.”

• But hyperlocal creators are carrying on in a myriad of ways, and in some cases are spreading their wings. The brand new San Diego News Network appreciates its citizen bloggers providing gratis contributions. But it’s wagering its success on paid professional journalists to provide substantive community reporting:

“Blogging is interesting, but it’s like whipped cream on apple pie. If you only had whipped cream, you’d get clogged arteries and drop dead.”

• Bill Wasik, author of a forthcoming book about “viral culture,” is at once excited about the frantic nature of Web opportunities for young creatives and wary of the fleeting drawbacks that can accompany them:

“Online, the audience can be yours right away, direct and unmediated — if you can figure out how to find it and, what’s harder, to keep it. . . . ‘Microcelebrity’ is now the rule, with respect not only to the size of one’s fan base but also to the duration of its love. Believe it or not, the Internet is a tougher town than New York; fewer people make it here, but no one there seems to make it for long.”

• Nick Carr has been discussing Wasik’s book, and particularly in the context of these music-on-demand times:

“The problem with the Web, as I see it, is that it imposes, with its imperialistic iron fist, the ‘ecstatic surfing’ behavior on everything and to the exclusion of other modes of experience (not just for how we listen to music, but for how we interact with all media once they’ve been digitized). . . .

“It’s the deep, attentive engagement that the Web is draining away, as we fill our iTunes library with tens of thousands of ‘tracks’ at little or no cost. What the Web tells us, over and over again, is that breadth destroys depth. Just hit Shuffle.”

• Alex Ross, the classical music critic of The New York Times, like Carr, is no Luddite. But he felt the same way after scarfing up some of the best digital offerings he could find on the Web:

“But these meandering journeys across the Internet soundscape can be taxing. The medium too easily generates anxiety in place of fulfillment, an addictive cycle of craving and malaise. No sooner has one experience begun than the thought of what else is out there intrudes. Putting on an old-fashioned disk and letting it play to the end restores a measure of sanity. This may explain why the archaic LP is enjoying an odd surge of popularity among younger listeners: it’s a modest rebellion against the tyranny of instant access.”

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