NBC’s Brian Williams on new media

The NBC news anchor and managing editor spoke before a crowd of NYU journalism students last month on the challenges that traditional journalism faces from online media. The following quotes from his speech have been widely circulated since then, but in case you missed them:

On bloggers:

“You’re going to be up against people who have an opinion, a modem, and a bathrobe. All of my life, developing credentials to cover my field of work, and now I’m up against a guy named Vinny in an efficiency apartment in the Bronx who hasn’t left the efficiency apartment in two years.”

On YouTube:

“If we’re all watching cats flushing toilets, what aren’t we reading? What great writer are we missing? What great story are we ignoring? This is societal, it’s cultural, I can’t change it. We should maybe pause to think about it. Because like everybody else, I can burn an hour on YouTube or Perez Hilton without breaking a sweat. And what have I just not paid attention to that 10 years ago I would’ve just consumed?”

More details here. Not surprisingly, Williams has been roundly criticized for these remarks in the blogosphere for coming off as “self-important” and a “knucklehead“, but I’m not so sure that he doesn’t have a good point. Remember that he was addressing journalism students, not the general public. These folks will graduate from college trained to become our next generation of professional newspaper, magazine, radio, and TV reporters, and the landscape today is vastly different than 10 years ago when people like Williams were learning the craft. We now have an army of “citizen journalists” who, armed with their cell-phone video cameras and blogs, have the ability to reach a potential audience of millions.

But in any creative field, whether it be music, art, or journalism, there will always be tons of chaff for every few kernels of wheat. It’s up to the consumer to sort it out for themselves and choose what they think is most valuable, whether it’s NBC, Fox News, the Daily Kos, Michelle Malkin, the New York Times, or any other source. I think Williams was simply saying that there are a lot more choices available these days, and the value of that information can be difficult to determine when everyone writing on the Internet presents themselves as an “expert”.

“On the Internet, no one knows you’re a dog.”

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