Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Ecco Homo: Indy media's long, repetitive suicide note

The mark of the great editor is imagining the reader rather than identifying with the journalist.

A rough translation of Nietzsche’s aphoristic rant about “moralists”: “And what does he [the moralist] do? He paints a picture of himself upon the wall and exclaims ‘Ecco Homo’ (‘Behold the Man!’)”.

The point was that when mad old Nietzsche’s “moralist” wanted a template of perfect human, the moralist described himself. “If you wish to be happy, imitate me!”

With the exception of (a) niches that talk to themselves, and (b) The Conversation (more later), when people say “indy media” they mean “independent political media”. There have been plenty of the latter launched and failed in Australia over the years. And they fail with monotonous regularity.


Because nobody gives two tenths of a shit. At bottom, people at large just don’t care about what journalists and enthusiasts think are the Big Political Stories.


If you decide that you’re going to filter every fucking story through a prism of trying to predict the next election, you will fail. Go broke. Lose readers. Big time.

As is happening right now to Fairfax and News.

Because only a tiny handful of the readership – the ones that happen to fit your template – actually care. They’re busy with life, and – sorry to say this – “news” really is entertainment.

I cannot pretend that I am the Exemplar of Successful Editorship. But I know this: if the editor can’t imagine the reader beyond a tiny prism, that editor’s publication will fail.


Take another look at the declining readership of “mainstream” news outlets, and then look at their content. The more the MSM aligns itself with politics – “we’re the newspaper of the conservative / progressive” – in Australia, at least, the fewer the readers.

The more that mainstream news decides that non-political stories – science, technology, censorship, national security, Internet trolling – can only be viewed through a political prism, the less people actually care about the story. There’s another post there, but not now.

My point is this: too many journalists have too little imagination. They can easily imagine the meaning of the words “hit magnet”, but they can’t imagine a reader that doesn’t look like them.

Back to indy media. Whether trivial or Big and Worthy, attempts at independent media are always politics-heavy. Why? Because politics is the interest of the players – not of the readers.

Why do they fail? Because politics is the obsession of the players – not of the readers.

There’s no reason I can think of why an indy media source couldn’t throw in crime, sport (most sports could benefit from journalists that aren’t PR captives – just watch, for example, how relentlessly soccer specialists in the mainstream pursue the crusade of eliminating the word “soccer” from the world), technology, science … even bloody fashion. Or movies, entertainment, arts, music…

But “indy media” is filtered through the journalists’ Ecco Homo prism that it’s all about politics. And it will keep failing until someone’s imaginative enough to imagine the wild world outside – or it runs out of suckers to blow their money.

Oh, about The Conversation. It’s falling prey, in my opinion, to the misapprehension that everybody wants to get Another Authoritative Opinion about politics or economics.

That’s readership poison, in the long term. In my opinion. And there’s no guarantee that I’m free of Ecco Homo – your mileage may vary.

Postscript:  It's fashionable among publishers, journalists and commentators to detest the Huffington Post as a re-linker and re-purposer of content without original input. I won't enter that debate, but will offer this thought: HuffPo gets breadth, for all of its sins. That breadth is successful. If you want politics, it's there. Sport? Got it. Celebrity wardrobe malfunctions? Check. Even science, in case someone discovers the Higgs boson and it gets a pile of hits.

It's kind of the Reader's Digest for a more cynical, no-syndication-fee era.

Maybe the next challenge is to do HuffPo's breadth - with real journalism behind it. Just my two cents' worth.

Postscript to the postscript: Maybe Malcolm Fraser had the best advice to editors. "Get politics off the front page." Certainly leading every issue, Web or print, isn't doing the job. There are plenty of red-hot crime stories out there: perhaps someone should try that as a lead - without the obligatory sound-bit of a political bromide about "making the streets safe" for someone.  

Postscript to the postscript to the postscript: My wife just reminded me of one of her first lessons in journalism. Forgive the stereotype, but she calls it the "Turkish grocer test": if that reader can't read it or isn't interested, you lose lots of readers fast. 

1 comment:

Craig Askings said...

I certainly don't think I'm anywhere close to the average. MSM is pretty much dead to me. Replaced by RSS feeds of specialist news sites (Renew Economy, Ars Technica etc) with Twitter / Reddit filling in to let me know what ever is the current Outrage of the day.