It’s been a lot of fun, this long-running sniper’s war between Old Media and New Media. We’ve all enjoyed some hilarious slap-downs, all marveled at the sheer idiocy of the morons on the other side. (Oh, and let’s not forget their over-the-top mean-spiritedness.) But all fun things must end. It’s time to put the Old vs. New Media war to rest.
This framework, old vs. new, hasn’t been wholly wrong. For a long time it has mostly reflected facts on the ground. Old media was in the money-making driver’s seat and spent long hours scoffing and chortling at the new-media prophets. New media would not be outdone on the scoffing front, convinced that the digital revolution would change everything, if only old media would get out of the way. The battle lines were drawn and fixed. And there they would stay.
I was thinking about this last week on the drive up to San Francisco and the Online News Association. I wanted to write about the anniversary of my leaving the old (McClatchy’s Washington Bureau) and entering the new (USC Annenberg, writing and teaching about new media). What struck me is how this old framework was in the process of busting up, but also how much more dismantling was required. As many people have noted — Jay Rosen and Robert Niles among them — these shifting fault lines were much in evidence during ONA’s fabulous program. The old battles were somehow… fading away.
What happened? The war ended. The prophets turned out to be correct. The Internet has changed, is changing, everything — or close enough to everything that they get full credit. What else is happening? The crowd previously known as the money makers get it, too. The consensus now is overwhelming. Armistice is at hand.
Of course, not everyone gets it. Old ways die hard. And, in fact, there are still some real disputes. New-media veterans still see flare-ups of denialism that must be countered. The old-media crowd sometimes sees a presumption that everything old has now been discredited.
But these things now lie at the margins. The ground has shifted. There’s no longer a need to maintain a standing army. And, in fact, it gets in the way of progress.
To my friends in old media, I’d say: If you haven’t already, admit that the new-media thinkers were right — because they were. The Internet would change everything, it would revolutionize and devastate the business you came to love, and there are people who saw this much earlier than you did. (Let me say: Earlier than I did as well.) To my friends in the new media, I’d say: Kudos. You deserve acknowledgment for your vision and smart thinking. But now: Lower the barriers to entry in what used to be your world and yours alone. Newcomers are blessings to embrace, not Johnny-Come-Latelys to be mocked.
We journalists are back together again, or sure as heck should be,and the enemy now isn’t the other side but the challenge of finding new ways and new models that will sustain the information needs of democracy. This work needs everyone’s good thinking, and will be accomplished much more easily if it’s not weighed down by old grudges and tribal loyalties. What a richer world this will be when new-media thinkers critique new media with the same vigor they bring to old media, when old-media veterans feel free to say that old ways don’t work and may not have been the greatest anyway.
Tina Brown, also observing a one-year anniversary this week (the Daily Beast), declared the battle between print and Internet a “phony war.” I wouldn’t say the war was phony, exactly. I’d just say: it’s over.