A couple of days ago I posted on the conflict between writing what people are identified, through the crunching of online stats, as wanting in their newspapers, and writing what we – as grandly hierarchical authorial voices – believe people need to read. I concluded in the following way:
Perhaps, in a sense, it is wrong of me to bemoan latterday newspapers’ statistical approach to writing stories. Structures and restrictions have always faced our artists: the shock of the new, the art of the old, the genius of the wise, the resilience of the one-day-to-be-famous creators of future generations … all these issues and more may help us to understand better that whilst the moneymen and women do substantially affect our ability to do good, equally the Utopia we would desire is inevitably beyond our reach.
It may or may not be democracy to only write what people want.
But similarly, mightn’t it be a kind of fascism to only write what we think they need?
Last night, meanwhile, I finally let go – in the face of a resounding lack of interest – of a hyperlocal journalism project which has had grand virtue but zero engagement in the community where I live.
In response to this piece, a very nice man I met a few weeks ago in person very kindly tweeted this:
This post you are reading now is my short and concise reply.
Engagement is the buzz-concept of the second decade of this 21st century. Without take-up, without a wider acceptance, utility for any virtual and/or community project does not exist. And there is little point – in the case of the hyperlocal experiences under discussion today, for example – in my continuing another seven months, bravely plugging away as an individual who is peculiarly, maybe fruitlessly, in the outfield of irrelevant process – with what’s evidently been, at a personal level anyway, a limited capacity to engage that wider community.
In any case, from the beginning, the project was about sustainability: about re-engineering existing business models in tandem with the new hyperlocal, for the benefit of all and sundry. And it’s here, perhaps, where my sticking-point has lain all along. I’ve been a blogger since 2003 (maybe earlier; can’t remember for sure): part of that army of virtual ants which has clambered altruistically, collaboratively, ultimately (I’m afraid to say) grossly too, over its tiring companions and colleagues, as the years have passed by in generally unpaid and uncompensated labour.
If I am clear about anything, it’s that I don’t want such volunteer weariness to repeat itself for hyperlocal – for yet another possibly foolish and certainly unknowing generation of hopefuls.
We don’t want to make of significant journalism a permanent internship of promises, never fulfilled.
If I give up on being a one-man band, this is mainly, primarily, why.
For starters, out of a kind of déjà vu. Out of seeing how excited individuals are exploited systemically through their own laudable belief in their communities and the future.
Also, then, because I do seriously wonder the following: in democracy, what right does any individual (like myself, I mean) have to hierarchically define what an unwilling community rejects – whether outright and explicitly or with an (un)fairly cloaked sense of ownership?
And so it is, by way of final observation, I express – in the strongest terms – my desire to create models and dynamics of collaboration which attribute and remunerate justly.
As in our emotional lives, so in our business relationships.
Isn’t that right? Isn’t that how – always – it should be?