2:05 pm EDT | Toronto | Drew Nelles reporting: On December 8th, the day MediaScout announced it would soon go on an indefinite hiatus, two other things happened. The administrators of the Pulitzer Prizes announced that they would start accepting entries from online-only news outlets. Also, the Tribune Company – publisher of the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times, among other newspapers – filed for bankruptcy.
These three events vary in scale, but what they hold in common is obvious. As Jon Stewart recently joked, “What’s black and white and completely over?” Media are on the move. We should not be nostalgic for some era of glorious print muckraking that never really existed; newspapers have been narrow ideological tools and rapacious advertising vessels as often has they have exposed injustice and challenged power.
But we should also be realistic. The internet is not a panacea. Globally speaking, online access remains a limited privilege. Yesterday’s news conglomerates now own leading web publications. Independent media are wonderful, but lack resources. Blogs are, uh, blogs – diffuse and democratic, yes, but also the publishing platform of choice for party hacks, cowards, and the batshit insane. And in any case, the imminent death of the printed page has likely been exaggerated.
MediaScout occupied both of these worlds, the dodgy past and the hazy future. We aimed to explain how and why different outlets covered the news differently. Like the media sources we critiqued, we weren’t always successful. But when MediaScout worked, it was the potential of the internet on display. Lightning-fast summary and analysis. Instant context. Exploding the myth of an unbiased media. MediaScout would have been impossible in an earlier era, but the web allowed it to thrive.
Like many online upstarts, though, MediaScout fell victim to a lack of funding. This will be online media’s greatest challenge, as no funding source seems ideal: neither the insatiability of CEOs and advertisers, nor the fickleness of subscribers and donators. MediaScout’s obstacles were also those of publishing and the internet at large, obstacles that will not go away. Maybe we will be back. More likely, we won’t. In today’s climate – media, economic, whatever – that uncertainty is fitting.