Notes on the Old-School Media Beatdown

by David Miller Dec 4, 2009
With news of National Geographic Adventure folding, Matador Editor David Miller looks at people vs. institutions and the need to keep your eyes downstream.

I HAVE NO interest in media deathwatches. I published a few pieces on newspaper circulations taking massive hits a couple months ago, and am over it. We all know (I think) where this is going.

For me it’s always about people, places, and communities, not institutions. So that said, yesterday’s news that National Geographic Adventure was folding made me sad for the writers and editors who lost their jobs, and how this will likely play out at ground level (the fragmentation of what I imagine to be a very soulful and tight community), but I’m not 100% sure that, as Steve Casimiro said, “outdoor culture is far emptier for this news.”

Outdoor culture is made emptier when a beloved person (Shane McConkey comes to mind) or place (say, a river being dammed) is lost. But the institutions themselves, whether media companies, magazine, or gear companies, are still only peripheral. They’re always in the wavelike process of forming, swelling, breaking, and reforming. At least that’s how I see it.

After getting laid off from USA Today, Travel Editor Chris Faust’s goodbye to USA Today blog expressed similar remorse. This firing wasn’t just his team getting axed but an affront to the institution of journalism.

She writes, “What bothers me the most is what my firing represented. See, I’ve been learning all the tricks that a modern multi-platform journalist is supposed to know. In the past 22 months, I’ve blogged, tweeted, shot photos and videos, and handled speaking engagements…I hustled and I cajoled and I ended up out on my ass anyway…I’m a true believer in the power of journalism. I walked into my first newspaper office when I was 16, fell in love with deadlines and chaos, and never looked back.. . I felt it was a calling, more so than a job.”

These freelancers-slash-entrepreneurs are smart. They are nimble. And now they are my role models, as I join their ranks.”

I like how Faust looks downstream at freelancers “creating niche businesses, busting up the paradigm.” She writes, “These freelancers-slash-entrepreneurs are smart. They are nimble. And now they are my role models, as I join their ranks.”

And if anything, I respect Faust for looking ahead, and I respect the NatGeo Adventure editors / officers for simply calling it and moving on as opposed to flailing (like the Dallas Morning News section editors now reporting directly to sales managers) or in some way undercutting their original vision.

All of this leads me back to Matador. From our start in 2006, the vision has always been to enable writers to take the path of least resistance between place, story, and reader. It’s something that never could’ve existed pre-internet, but at the same time is an ethic born out of relating to place and community in the most on the ground, person-to-person way possible.

As a writer and old-school journalist myself, my initial instinct was to press CEO Ross Borden towards coming up with some kind of print manifestation of Matador. An anthology perhaps, a monthly print edition. I felt it would be a validation of sorts.

Ross was always looking farther downstream however, and could already see a new direction–readership, community, and media based on blog networks–as the future. This blog in particular, The Traveler’s Notebook, was the first we decided to launch. It would help give people tools and resources for becoming new school travel writers and journalists.

From here we’ve put everything we’ve learned into a new media learning center, MatadorU. As I said earlier, I’m not interested in seeing old school journalists getting beat down. I want to see people with stories worth telling, regardless of institutions, get the audience that they (both the writers and the stories) deserve.

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