Journalistic Narcissism & the Future of Radio

pure-digital-radioI recently linked to an article by Jeff Jarvis about the hubris of the American newsroom (via). Jarvis focused on two main points: 1) What is news these days, and does it depend on who reports it, and 2) the fact that news goes on without traditional newsmen and women, and their somewhat & sometimes childish response to the web and news bloggers doesn’t really help.

The question journalists must ask, again, is how they add value to that. Of course, journalists can add much: reporting, curating, vetting, correcting, illustrating, giving context, writing narrative. And, of course, I’m all in favor of having journalists; I’m teaching them. But what’s hard to face is that the news can go on without them. They’re the ones who need to figure out how to make themselves needed. They can and they will but they can no longer simply rest on the press and its myths.

He’s talking about the future of the newsroom and the newspaper, and I’d like to chime in with regards to the world of radio. There’s a very similar hubris — and not just in the newsroom — in radio stations all over America. It’s a sort of defensive rattle caused by the fear of the unknown. Most of the people I’ve worked with in the radio world think that blogging is an unedited, unprofessional and ultimately amateur sideshow, but they know they’re being told at every workshop and seminar that they should do it, so they try. At the end of the day, there’s a lot of angst from the news staff to the on-air crew. For lifers, they’ve already been through several major technological advances (some are still dealing with the challenges of a digital board for air play) over the last couple decades, and things just aren’t that easy anymore.

For newspaper journalists, they’re being challenged to write more, write faster, be more savvy. For radio folks, they’re being asked to write for the first time. Even the news staff is looking at their air copy — and these are students of journalism — with furrowed brows, pondering how to turn it into a readable piece of web copy. They get sent to seminars on how to turn their stories into web copy. They have editors trying to help them with this big leap forward. And many of them aren’t happy about it.

For the longest time, people working in radio had a comfortable gig. They made the rules, they picked who made it and who didn’t, and it all came down to them. That’s just not true anymore, and it affects their world not just on the music end, but on the actual legitimacy end as well. With HD, satellite, music blogs, internet radio (Pandora, Lastfm, iMeem) and the rising discomfort labels have with sending bands to play for free in studio, there’s a lot to be worried about.

There’s a sort of denial about all of this, though, at least in my experience. There’s an outward nod but an inner sort of refusal to adapt. It stems, I think, from the past 20 years of being the boss. What they don’t realize is that it’s already too late to adapt. Terrestrial radio is essentially doomed, Robin Chase already knows it. Stations like WOXY that only broadcast on the web have a leg up on terrestrial stations fighting for their profits and dwindling interest from advertisers: they can being the reverse syndication model that might actually save the platform.

But go to your local radio station and ask for a tour. Ask their web staff if they like the web site they’re forced to work on, if the infrastructure allows for growth or modernization. Ask the news team or the DJs if they want to become bloggers. You’ll get snorts of laughter and eye rolls. Geeks who knows what’s happening are talking as loudly as they can within the echo chamber of radio hubris, and no one will listen to us until they stop thinking of everyone who happens to be web-savvy as a sort of terminal loser with amateur ambitions to their greatness.

Maybe they’ll get lucky and retire before it all collapses.

Further reading: Seth Godin’s “Everyone Else Reads It” piece from earlier this week. It’s a nice partner to Jarvis’, and I think you can insert the radio world to both pieces and come away pretty enlightened.