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We're not dead yet, they're not journalists yet, says Lucasiewicz

In 2006, Wired called us a “spiraling vortex of ruin.” [Link.] But television is still a $65B business, said Mark Lucasiewicz, VP of Digital Media for NBC said at Editor & Publisher Interactive today in Miami. My reaction: Welcome to the high-tech industry — the Land of the Premature Obituary. How many obituaries have I read for Apple Computer alone? To me, constant claims that the news industry, newspapers, television, books are dead is simply a sign that those are becoming high tech professions in high tech industries, where we declare various companies, products, and movements dead on a biweekly basis, and then ignore the fact that, like the not-yet-dead plague victim in the Monty Python skit who hollers, “I was just going out for a walk!,” they’re not dead. Mainframes, TV, Apple, the newspaper — they’re all still there.

One thing I’m struck by whenever I go to these gatherings is just how much time is spent discussing the Internet, YouTube, blogs, and MySpace — followed by various statements of reassurance. This is interesting, but it’s not about the net: it’s about news people’s concerns about the future of their own industry, their own careers. You can’t really learn anything about the net at these presentations, really, because they’re not about the net.

“This is big,” Lucasiewicz says, talking about video on the web, “it’s here to stay, it’s core to our business, it’s not an add-on anymore…but as I talk about the opportunities, I should also talk about the pitfalls, particularly in journalism…I think there’s a great deal of confusion: a computer is not a conscience…he talks about a news site with a blogger and says that the person is described as a “blogger who performs acts of journalism.”

The audience laughs at this.

User generated content and citizen journalism is also something we have to think about. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great, but having a videocamera in your hand no more makes you a journalist than having one makes you a feature filmmaker. He shows a still from the Zapruder film of President Kennedy’s assassination. “Today, we’d call him a citizen journalist; back then, we called him what he was: an eyewitness. Today, we have Jamal Albarghouti, who captured images outside a building at Virginia Tech where he heard sound. A great eyewitness, but not a journalist. A journalist pulls a story together from different sources, and that’s important.”

It’s funny how they get to have it both ways: often “citizen journalism” is criticized because “only journalists are actually on the scene.” Then when nonjournalists with cameras are on the scene, journalism is seasoned analysis and multiple sources. Shrug.

He calls the 5th estate — blogs, videoblogs, etc, the “crapacopia,” quoting Ze Frank. “I’m convinced that people still want to see quality. Steven Spielberg still has a place in the marketplace.” This seems like a straw man argument to me. “I think when you talk about citizen journalism on the web, video that shows up on the web, there are plenty of stories that do speak for themselves…There’s no YouTube reporter tracking down Wal-Mart, there’s no Baghdad bureau of Google.”

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