Sunday, November 20, 2016

A Moment of Clarity: Two Thougths on the Media World

While watching TV today, I grew impatient with an extended ad break. With some 250 satellite channels to choose from, I had already mapped out a couple of alternative shows to view, and switched to the next ... also in an ad break. But I stayed there. Why?

One might argue it's a constant search for novelty (the old show was okay, but now I wanted something different), but I also think it was actually the quality of the ad. The old show had a classic, cable-TV, 1-800-number product pitch on it, while the new show had a creative, artful, high-end candy commercial. Simply put: I found the new ad more entertaining.

Is this a trend? Is this something of importance? As technology allows us to time-shift and skip commercials, is the answer to make more commercials more like actual entertainment? We seem to have discovered this with Super Bowl ads, which now are featured in shows of their own as part of the game run up. Is the old truism that an annoying ad which caused you to still remember the product was an effective ad now obsolete?

Frankly, I can find this only a move to the good. It reduces the amount of garbage in the world, and the increase in the amount of "art" of a form, even harnessed in the cause of sales, can only make the world a better place.

And maybe it will provide work for the truly talented, hardworking professionals who make film and television ... which leads to my second thought.

As news media cut back, trying to do more with less, one of the areas frequently cut is in photography. Much of this is due to a misunderstanding of the skill and professionalism good photography and photojournalism require, as well as a failure to appreciate the necessity for good (if not great) photography rather than just adequate pictures.

Now, I continue to search for a clear, relatively simple of explanation of where the money has gone (old media companies were able to make tons of money producing newspapers and television broadcasts using more people and much more expensive equipment; what's the difference now?), but in the meantime it strikes me that we could be on the cusp of an interesting professional moment.

To back up a bit, corporate media thinks they have found a solution by reallocating news collection resources. They assign several tasks to a single journalist (classically, the Multi-Media Journalist -- MMJ -- or one-man-band of local TV, where the reporter also shoots and edits the story), they accept more handouts both from organizations and from non-profit and other non-traditional journalism organizations, they encourage "citizen journalists" to send in pictures and information, and so on. All of it is driven by the fact that these things cost less than paying professionals to collect news.

What to do, if you -- like me -- treasure the image of a journalist (that being a person who is curious and interested in learning an accurate account of what we call news, who then can take that an present it to the rest of us as an enlightening, understandable and maybe even entertaining piece, no matter what the media ... to be over simplistic)? How do we save the profession of people dedicated to its idea and ideals?

Well, this is not really a new question, though it might be a newish variant. And I think an answer might be found in the past.

The legendary photo agency Magnum was founded in 1947 by some of the great photojournalists of the day, men who had tired of a media environment they saw as tyrannical as we might see today's: a place where corporate management calls the tune by way of available jobs and money, and no room for creativity or deeper coverage was allowed. They decided to fund assignments themselves, then have agents sell the stories for the best possible price. Magnum continues today as a key player in the photography world.

So, if the new media corporate world wants to eliminate staff and the expense of continuous coverage, go ahead. Let's answer them by forming our own world of little Magnums: co-ops of photographers and writers with similar visions and interests, covering stories and making them available to the highest bidder. This will mean some business and bargaining acumen on our part, though we wouldn't be the first. Besides the older example of Magnum and other photo agencies, one can find any number of photographers (like John Harrington) and writers who are also clever businessmen as examples. (Sadly, I am not one of them.) We just can't accept their scraps with gratitude as we have in the past, but insist the work has value.

Now this in turn requires the consumer to discriminate between quality work and crap, but if we go to my first thought, where I reflexively turned away from the bad ad to the good, it should shake out. The question is whether management will see that at the start and avoid the difficult culling period ...

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