They’re saying this story shows how online media has come of age. I can see that Huffington Post clearly deserves this Pulitzer – and not just for the series it was commended for. But, whilst deserved, I wonder if the recognition itself is welcome.
HuffPost now belongs to AOL – it changed hands last year for millions of dollars. Other media organisations such as the New York Times or the British Guardian, adapting reasonably fleet-of-footedly to the new journalistic frames, now produce similarly effective online presences with just as much interactivity and just as much social media impact.
Since they also have real printing-presses and other offline overheads, they probably lose much more money than HuffPost – but even so, the final impact on readers cannot be all that different.
So what does online media’s garnering of prizes like the Pulitzer mean for the rest of us? I think it means we are probably going to lose something important, as the traditional model of legally defensible communication reasserts itself by taking over from the over-the-garden-fence discourse which we as users have, to date, thought we were all engaging in.
We lose, in effect, as does our democracy too, the deniable-outrider advantages of bringing up through that bubbling virtual cauldron of rumour and speculation realities which traditional media may refuse to contemplate airing. In the absence of other written guarantees around freedom of speech in the UK, social networks’ recent grey areas of rights and responsibilities were perhaps our only saving graces: take these away as all our online media strive to become respectably recognised and we might find we are left with very little true freedom of speech.
It may not be fashionable for people to suggest that what makes online media so fascinating is precisely its inability to get things absolutely right – but, for me anyhow, its biggest strength lies precisely in that: in stumbling across far bigger truths by getting some of them dramatically wrong.
If we lose the liberties which over-the-garden-fence discourses have, of late, afforded so many of us, we will gradually revert to a mode of communication so dependent on platoons of legal bodies, advice and dark corridors of injunctions that the “newness” online media initially brought with it will eventually become nothing more than a historical blip on the horizon.
The Pulitzer path will lead us back to traditional business models, mark my words. And the Rupert Murdochs of this world will eventually have their way.
Unashamed ambiguity and deniable outridership – now these should be our true cause and standard.
As well as our markers in the sand.