When losers write history..a case of media industry

Matt Welch editor in chief of Reason magazine writes this terrific article (HT: the browser.com).

The article is based on this idea of what happens when losers write history. So say there has been some changes in the society. It effects someone +ly (gainers) and someone -ly (losers). What happens when the losers write about these historical changes? They are going to be only bittter:

Most journalists are familiar with the arch observation, made famous by Winston Churchill, that history tends to be written “by the victors.” Less known and more cheeky was Churchill’s prediction (mostly accurate, it turned out) that “History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it.”

…Imagine for a moment that the hurly-burly history of American retail was chronicled not by reporters and academics but by life-long employees of A&P, a largely forgotten supermarket chain that enjoyed a 75 percent market share as recently as the 1950s. How do you suppose an A&P Organization Man might portray the rise of discount super-retailer Wal-Mart, or organic foods-popularizer Whole Foods, let alone such newfangled Internet ventures as Peapod.com? Life looks a hell of a lot different from the perspective of a dinosaur slowly leaking power than it does to a fickle consumer happily gobbling up innovation wherever it shoots up.

The same thing is happening to media as well:

To make even preliminary sense of the hotly disputed and remarkably fluid landscape of modern media, it helps to recall Churchill’s axioms about historiography, and recognize that something closer to the inverse is warping our basic view of journalism. It’s the losers, not the winners, who are writing the early historical drafts of this transformational media moment, while those actually making that history—the people formerly known as the audience, in critic Jay Rosen’s apt phrase—are treating their legacy interpreters not with kindness but contempt. So much misunderstanding and breathtakingly wrong-headed analysis tumbles forth from this one paradox.

He then goes on to show how media has declined in a decade from being one of the most profitable industry to asking fot govt. subsidy.

How did we move so quickly from bemoaning the size and profitability of media companies (Downie 2002) to advocating government subsidies for those same weakened giants (Downie 2009)? Only by mistaking the fate of journalism’s biggest manufacturers with the fate of the industry as a whole—by conflating A&P with the retail business—and then further muddying the waters by confusing the fortunes of big media companies with the health of democracy itself.

When AOL bought Time Warner in 2000, for example, lefty critics who for years had been warning about an alleged “media monopoly” (consisting, somehow, of more than a half-dozen companies) reacted with positively millenarian forecasts of doom. Norman Solomon heralded a “new theocracy,” and dusted off the old Aldous Huxley quote about how there is “no reason why the new totalitarianisms should resemble the old.” Robert Scheer proclaimed that the new “Big Brother” would portend the end of the Internet “as a wild zone of libertarian freedom.” And McChesney, arguably the most currently influential of the bunch, declared back then that “the eventual course of the Internet—the central nervous system of our era—will be determined by where the most money can be made, regardless of the social and political implications.”

A decade later we can see that this telescopic focus on the elephant in the room missed out on history’s biggest mouse party. The most important fact of our modern media world, the engine of such unprecedented creativity and anxiety-inducing destruction, is that the customer is no longer captive. People create their own media, for the sheer bloody hell of it, and no longer adhere permanently to one of a handful of legacy brands.

Hmm..How things have changed in the last few years. One does not follow the traditional media channels anymore:

But is the iron core of baseball news and analysis remotely shrinking? I’m an avid baseball consumer, and when I compare my media diet today to the dawn of the 21st century, when the dot-com boom was near its initial apex, it isn’t even close. Back then, more than 90 percent of my baseball-related intake, for example, was whatever appeared in the print edition of that morning’s L.A. Times.

Now let’s fast forward to 2012. Instead of cable and radio, I watch games live on my computer by subscribing to MLB.tv. I choose Yahoo.com from a crowded field for live box scores and AP game recaps. An extraordinary website called Baseball-Reference.com—again, launched by a motivated outsider—gives me and millions of others the best baseball encyclopedia ever created, for free, updated with fresh information every morning. For links to and smart discussion about sabermetric-related material, I check out Baseball Think Factory; for similar original writing I’ll also consult The Hardball Times and The Baseball Analysts (each of these, too, started by “amateurs”; I’ve contributed to both). The team’s hometown Orange County Register, despite suffering through rounds of layoffs and bankruptcy, has the last few years drastically ramped up the quality of its round-the-clock online coverage. I follow the Twitter feeds of various Angels-related people (ranging from stars to broadcasters to minor league wives); look at the team’s own news-filled website, and most enjoyably of all, spend a lot of time on a community website called Halos Heaven, where fans argue with one another about personnel,

Counting it up, that’s 10 media entities where I once consumed three, four journalistic spaces I contribute to where there once was zero, and none of them are owned by one of “Big Six” companies that allegedly dominate our mediaverse. 

This is so true. Atleast it is the case for me as well. For econ related stuff, I mostly look at blogs/websites etc for related stuff. It is no more reliance on business papers.

Read the whole thing. Full on anecdotes and quotes on media’s losing sheen.

In the end:

In 2006, remarking on the suddenly troubled fates of the formerly indestructible duopolist film processor Eastman Kodak, The Wall Street Journal’s William M. Bulkeley put the problem succinctly: “Photography and publishing companies shouldn’t be surprised when digital technology upends their industries. After all, their business success relied on forcing customers to buy things they didn’t want.” The customers have moved away from yesterday’s news bundle, and from the mentality that fetishizes it, but instead of abandoning news they’ve dived into the production process with both feet. Instead of blaming them for ruining the past, we should be thanking them for inventing the future. And above all, we should do nothing to get in their way.

Superb..Really well written

But then history sounds really interesting when written by losers. Winners will also distort facts their way. After you get both perspectives, you can make some assessment of what was right and wrong. Or read independent opinions who have read both the views to gauge some understanding of the debate.



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