I have never been a particularly fast or slow writer. On my good days, I’d like to think of myself as a kind of Honda Accord hack, smoothly getting to my destination at the speed of traffic. I’ve worked for dailies, wires, a newsweekly, its website and even wrote a book (out in Italy) that exactly 17 publishers have shipped back to my hot-shot NY agent. Fools!! My point though: quality and platform notwithstanding, I have never had an editor comment on my velocity either way.
Of course, getting to -30- includes plenty of stops and starts and self-editing…and occasionally a flash of something from nowhere to keep it interesting. I want to try to zip, or plough, through this post, and send it off more quickly than usual… I have a lot on my plate today, but ultimately, I have to get used to writing just a bit faster and looser because that is the speed of traffic in the digital universe.
The topic today in fact is about straddling the old media/new media borderline, even as that line blurs. My heart and head are now both firmly in the new, but I am in no position to kiss the old goodbye. My relative absence in this space over the past couple of weeks is due to the return of the Catholic priest sex abuse crisis in a major way. That has meant a flurry of stories for both the web and print editions of my MSM outlet. My Vatican experience is in fact my most plainly marketable (and durable) quality right now. (Among the first ideas — eventually shelved — when my staff position was on the blocks was to do a papal blog: now, what would you call a Vatican blog by a guy with my name? Not My Church, of course!)
Part of me is always charged up to be back in the scrum, calling sources, shaping stories about a topic that is on the leading edge of the news cycle. That the story I helped report, written by my Time foreign editor Bobby Ghosh, made it onto the cover in the international editions offers the kind of satisfaction that you can’t get from a retweet. And yet…well, right now, for me at least, certain retweets are indeed worth more than cover stories. As I’ve said before, my website project must run on its own fuel…fumes from the past simply will not suffice.
But these last few days, as I emerged from the spate of papal reporting and jumped back in my startup project, I have been thinking a lot about the MSM. The outlet I know best right now would be worth its own case study: for how it has struggled with its corporate structure, for how it has and has not adapted to digital realities, and yes, the effects of its many layoffs; and yet, there is still no denying its ability to break through the noise, and sometimes even set the agenda. Perhaps most fascinating is the coverage of the information revolution itself. Though almost never on the leading edge, the newsweeklies do help determine what is mainstream, with all the implications that come with that. Think of You as Person of the Year, and Twitter and Saving Newspapers covers. If you’re reading this, you may scoff and slam Time for having reported something months or even years after you knew it to be the case. But it becomes, in some way, even more true when it’s plastered inside that red border. Of course, what remains to be seen is whether the MSM is managing to stay relevant or simply writing its own obituary…
Either way, though, I know my own destiny will largely be determined by how well I navigate this new, lava-like terrain where things are dying, transforming, rising from the ashes and being born from that filament sizzle of a light bulb going on in someone’s brain. I want the old media to survive and thrive for many reasons: not least of all because it is integral to the new media destination I am trying to create. But even before I get there, I must keep my eyes open for ways to capitalize on my knowledge of and relationships with the MSM to help build something that can only survive off the fat of the online land. And so you can imagine, for example, that more than Time’s cover, it’s the 2.03 million Twitter followers that interest me.
But beyond my own projects/interests, it seems evident that the established media must find ways to allow innovation to seep in to its walls from the energy and ideas of those trying to create something independently. Too often those with the ideas are moving faster than those with the resources and audience. Right now in the news biz, this dual-velocity dynamic risks killing off both ideas and institutions at a dangerously fast pace. Still, I am convinced that sooner or later the speed of traffic will again reveal itself.