Critics and the Digital Age

23Oct11

“The state of journalism today can scarcely be called journalism. Good journalism inquires rather than incites. It seeks to enlighten us rather than reinforce our prejudices. To raise hard questions rather than pontificate. To debate issues openly and vibrantly in the public sphere, rather than manufacture opinions with demagoguery.

Mainstream news, in contrast, flatters our ignorance, validates our fear, shuts down our curiosity and titillates our basest emotions. It keeps us hooked on toxic (mis)information, convinced that everyone is out to get us. By shutting down our sense of inquiry and commoditizing information into easily consumable sound bytes, our news isn’t really reporting the news at all. It’s just articulating public rage and manufacturing contempt” (Cangie).

Robin Cangie perfectly summed up my pre-determined perceptions on the subject of journalism today. My initial reaction was that journalism has become a victim of technology – a completely negative approach. As I perused an overwhelming number of articles on the state of journalism, I still have certain strong feelings which you will note below, but new perceptions have softened that.

I decided to look specifically at the relationship between critics and the digital age. The article and video, 5Across: Arts Criticism in the Digital Age, is an interview of five media workers: the editor-in-chief of Rotten Tomatoes, an art critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, the culture editor/writer at the new nonprofit site Bay Citizen, a freelance arts critic, and the president of the Television Critics Association. The discussion was about bloggers/aggregators and their relationship to critics.

It is true that bloggers and aggregates are becoming more popular. Traditional journalism jobs are disappearing and along with it go irreplaceable experience. To stay in the game, critics have to change their views and the way they “do” criticism or it seems like they will get lost in the rush toward websites like Rotten Tomatoes which compile criticisms and rate them with an overall number. It is important to consider that without reviews, aggregators will have nothing to aggregate, or talk, about. They actually show the relevance of critics. So, are aggregate sites actually helping? Or are they hurting the industry?

People who look at the broad range of online writers are looking for someone with a deep knowledge (or obsession) of a subject – a niche. They are looking for a forum in which to communicate with or collect information form. Niche people, however, have no frame of reference larger than their own niche. They live in a little niche bubble and are unable to talk between niches so it is not a realistic point of view. Critics feel that they have no part in this. They are not for entertainment; rather, they are for enlightenment.

Furthermore, many critics don’t wish to take part in audience participation and commenting from sources like social networks or blogs. When it does happen, though, how can you be sure that commentators have seen or heard what is being critiqued? How should critics interact with participatory audiences? Is it necessary that they interact with the dialogue or are they simply there to trigger a reaction and let the audience form the conversation? How should they foster the intelligent discussions? What about the unintelligent one? According to the critic from Bay Citizen, a critic’s involvement usually causes the conversation to get better (MediaShift).

What was most interesting about this video was that the critics don’t seem to be threatened by online media in that most of the information is opinionated and not well formed. “It’s kind of like American Idol. Occasionally you might find [a good one] that pops up” (MediaShift).

Cangie, Robin. “Journalism for the 21st Century.” Robin Cangie | Writer, Thinker, Wonderer. 12 Apr. 2011. Web. 23 Oct. 2011.

MediaShift. 5Across: Arts Criticism in the Digital Age | PBS. Prod. Mark Glaser. PBS: Public Broadcasting Service. Carnegie-Knight News21, 29 June 2010. Web. 23 Oct. 2011.

-Kathryn Rudolph

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