The Paparazzi Ethic

So nowadays everybody can be a journalist. Cell phones with digital cameras create images one upload away from publication on the Web. The ethic that emerges from this may be no ethic at all: publish first, apologize later. What the medium allows becomes what the medium demands, a case in point being the pictures of Larry Page and a young woman from Stanford that were hoist into view by the Search Engine Herald and popularized by the gossipy ValleyWag.

Apologies to Page for my complicity in this invasion of his privacy, more so to the Stanford woman who is not a public figure in the legal sense. I saw a report on the episode on CNBC — and apparently the pursuit of Page’s romantic interests traces back to the always gossipy New York Post.

So it’s not like new media or old media are solely to blame if in fact you think this sort of gawking is a problem at all. Perhaps you think it’s harmless fun for the viewer and no big skin off the backs of those who enjoy so many of the good things in life that they ought to be able to bear our envy. After all gossip works because we buy into it.

I’ll tell you how I bought into this particular bit of inconsequence. I was seated at my desk yesterday afternoon, at the mass media outlet where I work, and which just launched a blog (do check it out: we’re trying) when I look up at the television set nearby (tuned to CNBC for us business department types) and even with the volume turned down I quickly catch the drift.

As I mentioned in a recent post, in which I cited a forthcoming book, “The Economics of Attention,” in an advertising-supported media age it’s all about eyeballs, and what gets ’em, and what gets ’em by the giga-lots This is lowest-common denominator game that all media will be forced to play. And while many high-brow niches will remain, the power and pervasiveness of digital technologies that will more often create a Paparazzi Ethic than it will create civic-minded “Smart Mobs” as envisioned by Howard Rheingold. Both will exist. One will exist more often.

Anyhow maybe I’m just feeling bleak because I’m middle-aged, and it’s Friday and I forgot to take my meds, but if this line of angst interests you, try to visit the Cybersalon in Berkeley this Sunday where the high-brow versus lowbrow future of media will be discussed.

Tom Abate
‘Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media