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Washington Post media writer Howard Kurtz shocked his colleagues and even his critics this week when he announced he was leaving the Post after 29 years to join The Daily Beast, a web-only news site run by Tina Brown.
Kurtz is just the latest high-profile “mainstream” media journalist to abandon a “traditional” news outlet for one of the upstart web-based operations. Others include Howard Fineman of Newsweek and Peter Goodman of the New York Times. Both moved over to The Huffington Post.
With so many mainstream journalists making the switch it’s getting harder and harder to tell the new media from the old.
The Huffington Post, which started as a blog of the tart-tongued Ariana Huffington and some of her celebrity friends, is now a full-bore, venture-capital fueled operation run out of a SoHo lost with dozens of staffers and a round-the-clock news operation.
Politico, one of the new kids on the block, is backed by Albritton media empire money and has lured a number of high-profile writers from their old gigs writing for newspapers and broadcast outlets.
In Chicago recently, the “Journalism That Matters” project, run by former Associated Press staffer Bill Densmore, explored business models for local news sites and blogs.
Like everything else in modern society, money and commercialism have taken over. The freewheeling days of the Internet died long ago and corporate interests control much of what your read, see or hear.
For 16 of my years writing for newspapers, I was lucky enough to work for two independent, family-owned publications: The Roanoke Times in my home state of Virginia and The Telegraph in the Mississippi River city of Alton, Illinois.
Of the two, The Telegraph was the feisty pain in the butt of the status quo. We took no prisoners and went after everyone, costing an Illinois Supreme Court justice his job along with other politicians.
But The Telegraph today is owned by Freedom Newspapers and is just another clog in a giant media machine. The Roanoke Times is part of the Landmark chain. Even the small weekly newspaper that I write and shoot photographs for during my retirement is owned by Media General.
When you look at readership of news on the web, the numbers still go to media giants like The Washington Post and the New York Times.
In the early days of web-based journalism, giddy writers for new media predicted that the Internet would “liberate” journalism. It didn’t. New media was simply being taken over by old media.
Even “social media” sites like Facebook and Twitter are now dominated by corporate media. Writers for mainstream newspapers and broadcast outlets churn out blogs that are controlled by editors and the rules and restrictions of lawyers.
When Peter Goodman left The New York Times for The Daily Beast he said he was tired of “laundering” his writing through “think tanks and lawyers” but the Beast is owned by InterActive Corp. (IAC), an international conglomerate that controls more than 50 Internet sites. The boss at IAC is Barry Diller, former boss at Paramount and Fox Broadcasting.
How much freedom will Goodman have at IAC? As much as the accountants, lawyers and risk-assessment analysts allow.
In the end, “new media” is just repackaged “old media.”