Thursday, April 8, 2010
When the prospect of doing an April’s Fool issue first came up at an editorial news meeting a few months ago, I thought it was lousy idea.
“Satire is what closes on Saturday night,” as playwright and Marx Brothers screenwriter George S. Kaufman famously observed.
But when a former Weekly employee came up with the inspired suggestion that we take advantage of this year’s rare April 1 publishing date to announce the end of our print edition – saying we’re going all-electronic and mobile to adapt to the new age of Twitter and Facebook that never seem to involve real human contact – it was too good to resist.
It was a chance to poke fun at ourselves, acknowledge our industry’s plight and, ultimately, affirm a commitment to this community.
Whether you found it amusing or in terrible taste, we hoped it would serve a useful function: sparking a dialogue about the contrasting roles of old-school journalism – narrative, in-depth reporting like this week’s cover story about controversial plans to restore economic life to downtown Monterey – and the social networking phenomenon that has risen meteorically as the next generation’s most popular mode of information sharing, if not news gathering.
Both have value, and we are proud of our growing presence on Twitter, Facebook and www.montereycountyweekly.com, where fresh news content is posted daily. But as our little prank may have helped illustrate, print and digital journalism represent different values and orders of experience.
The continuing fascination with techie toys demonstrates the power of keeping hype alive.
IT WAS HEARTENING TO HEAR THE RESPONSES FROM WEEKLY READERS APPALLED AT THE IDEA OF OUR METAMORPHOSIS.
When I saw a television truck trolling into Del Monte Center last Saturday afternoon, I figured they were just doing a generic pre-Easter shopping feature. But I should have been tipped off the night before, when I watched Charlie Rose laboriously demonstrate the much-touted iPad’s features and interrogate tech journalists from the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times over whether Steve Jobs’ latest gizmo would change Life As We Know It.
Needless to say, the television crew was doing a story on the crowds lining up at the Apple store for their iPad fixes, the way they might have slept over to get tickets for a rock concert, or the opening of one of the Star Wars movies.
Jaron Lanier, known as “the father of virtual reality,” casts a cautionary note on the whole technology phenomenon in his recent book, You Are Not A Gadget – A Manifesto.
“The rise of the web was a rare instance when we learned new, positive information about human potential,” he writes. “Who would have guessed (at least at first) that millions of people would put so much effort into a project without the presence of advertising, commercial motive, threat of punishments, charismatic figures, identity politics, exploitation of the fear of death, or any of the other classic motivators of mankind.”
However, Lanier adds, things have not worked out as he and his hippie friends originally envisioned, as powerful semi-monopolists like Google quickly swallowed up the oxygen in the room.
“Entrepreneurs naturally sought to create products that would inspire demand (or at least hypothetical advertising opportunities that might someday compete with Google) where there was no lack to be addressed and no need to be filled, other than greed,” he writes. “There can be only one player occupying Google’s persistent niche, so most of the competitive schemes that came along made no money.”
He also debunks web creation myths like “the wisdom of crowds,” which he believes has proven to be as illusory as other closed systems like Marxism, fascism and Freudianism.
“Some of my colleagues think a million, or perhaps a billion, fragmentary insults will eventually wield wisdom that surpasses that of any well-thought-out essay, so long as sophisticated secret statistical algorithms recombine the fragments,” Lanier writes. “I disagree.”
Without attempting to resolve the debate raging in the blogosphere between Lanier and his critics, it was heartening to hear the responses from Weekly readers appalled at the prospect of our imminent metamorphosis.
“You almost gave me a heart attack until I realized it was a joke,” said one loyal fan.
The howls of outrage on our website, Facebook page and Twitter feed, and the phone calls flooding into our office, demonstrated the emotional connection with the community that any newspaper relies on, and too few demonstrate, if it is going to survive.
We can’t predict with certainty what announcements may be in store for April 1, 2011 (most likely online, since it falls on a Friday).
But one thing is sure: We’ll keep trying to surprise you.