The Advance Monster roosts in Cleveland

Save The Plain Dealer, a local campaign that’s been trying to highlight the inevitable “big changes” coming to our local daily, share this really great CJR story about how The Times-Picayune’s “big changes” really threw a wrench in New Orleans’ cherished journalism traditions.

It’s a story that’s been *out there* for years. In Cleveland, the whispers grew to a dull roar sometime last summer, shortly after the Times-Pic newsroom began collapsing in on itself.

I worked for Sun Newspapers, the weekly chain of community papers also owned  by Advance, from 2010 to late 2012. The company is intrinsically connected to the PD and to, the digital arm of the local op. Much of what Ryan Chittum discusses in his piece IS going to happen in Cleveland. But more still is already happening here. I titled this piece “The Advance Monster roosts in Cleveland” because its presence is always lurking just beneath the surface, just behind the walls in your home.

It’s a click-based strategy – the kind of thing the Old Guard considers Internet savvy. It’s a strategy that eats time and other abstract resources as if they were fat-laden prey in the woods. It’s a strategy that pushes mediocrity and fast-tracked news blurbs to the top, which inevitably reveals a cost-cutting method that will kick committed journalists to the curb. Many have left The Plain Dealer and Sun Newspapers already, as sort of preemptive nosedive from the tower. John Soeder’s one of the few ex-PDers whose gone on record as describing his exodus. I’m here doing the same. And there are others – former coworkers, former columnists, former illustrators, etc. etc.

I referenced Dean Starkman’s work earlier on this blog and pointed to his hamster wheel analogy. The free model of online journalism that Advance espouses with so much secretive absurdity is one that inevitably incentivizes a quantity-over-quality ideology. Other media scholars jumped on his article and completely missed his argument. The key word is “incentivize.” On the ground and in action, this process accomplishes that unfortunate end via quotas, a hunger for numbers and a strong emphasis on news polls and events promotion. Hardly “journalism” on any level.

Which is all to say that my use of the word “unfortunate” is apt. The Advance Monster encourages laziness – as long as the numbers and reports and data GROW month over month. A picture of a cute puppy by the lake is treated equally in the system alongside an in-depth analysis of the mayor’s budget proposal. And the picture of a cute puppy will likely lend itself to a fair bit of local “virality,” to turn a phrase, and, ultimately, satisfy the Advance Monster to a greater degree.

Fuck “going viral.”

That’s a minor mantra in my world. Because mediocrity has a tendency to rise to the top, it seems worthwhile to avoid “the top.”

So the Save the Plain Dealer campaign is sharing the news of the impending “big changes” and its members are right to do so. But don’t kid yourself. The Monster is already here.