Archive for April, 2009
I know people such as my mother will be tiring of me hammering on about this issue, but the world has recently been endowed with information that again supports the idea of at least decriminalising drugs.
Not so long ago, I pointed to an editorial by the Economist that said legalising drugs was the least bad way to deal with drug-related problems. Now, we have an even more mainstream magazine pouring fuel on the fire of uncommon sense.
Time magazine has pointed out that in Portugal, where drugs have been decriminalised, drug use has declined significantly:
The paper, published by Cato in April, found that in the five years after personal possession was decriminalized, illegal drug use among teens in Portugal declined and rates of new HIV infections caused by sharing of dirty needles dropped, while the number of people seeking treatment for drug addiction more than doubled.
“Judging by every metric, decriminalization in Portugal has been a resounding success,” says Glenn Greenwald, an attorney, author and fluent Portuguese speaker, who conducted the research. “It has enabled the Portuguese government to manage and control the drug problem far better than virtually every other Western country does.”
Compared to the European Union and the U.S., Portugal’s drug use numbers are impressive. Following decriminalization, Portugal had the lowest rate of lifetime marijuana use in people over 15 in the E.U.: 10%. The most comparable figure in America is in people over 12: 39.8%. Proportionally, more Americans have used cocaine than Portuguese have used marijuana.
If governments are serious about curbing drug use and addressing the many problems caused by a system that jails drug users and drives up the black market for drugs by so much that it’s worth killings and gang warfare to defend, then they need to admit that the current system is a catastrophic failure. A new approach is needed. Portugal has shown what that could be.
As we veer towards an age in which newspapers will be rare and less powerful, journalists face a severe jobs drought. That is, if our current journalism prevails. As very well outlined in Brian Solis’ thoughtful post on Tech Crunch, however, there’s every chance that our current modes of news dissemination won’t prevail and that — while the process will be painful and sometimes depressing — a new, exciting order will emerge, and journalists will be more central to that order than ever before.
Solis’ post was instigated by a conversation he had with Walt Mossberg, who said we shouldn’t be asking if newspapers are worth saving, but instead concentrating on saving good journalism. Fair point, and not a surprising one to come out of the mouth of a journalist. I’ve already given up most thoughts of ever working for a newspaper, partly because I’m not that attracted to the idea of news writing and news gathering but also because I think newspapers are heading into their twilight years (but if a newspaper editor out there has an amazing offer going, by all means hit me up…).
Newspapers just don’t make sense anymore — delivering short-form, not particularly localised daily news to people on paper isn’t sustainable in an era when news can delivered directly to specific devices according to an individual’s specific needs with minute by minute updates.
News isn’t going to become less important, but, to re-state the obvious, newspapers are no longer the best way of delivering it. To my mind, that means that, yeah, in terms of disseminating news, newspapers (as distinct from news organisations) won’t ultimately matter. But I think that long-form, analytical and investigative stories (and, by extension, magazines) will continue to matter, and that the best journalists will matter more than ever.
Which brings me back to Solis’ post. He reckons that in the new journalism order, journalists need to live outside the printed page, creating a profile for themselves that exists outside the boundaries of the newsroom.
It’s survival of the fittest predicated by what you stand for and how hungry you are to build and sustain a community around you and your work. What’s taking place right now is an incredible opportunity for good journalists to humanize their stories and project an outward extension of their persona to connect with existing and potential readers at the point of attention aperture, the window of opportunity to engage someone on their own terms and in their own time.
(Is now the right time to make a Quantum of Solis joke?)
Journalists such as Michael Arrington, Erick Schonfeld, Kara Swisher, and Rick Sanchez, Solis points out, have embraced blogging, Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms as a way to expand their (ugh, splutter) personal brands and build tribes of followers for their work. CNN’s Sanchez, for example, has more than 75,000 followers on Twitter. Who would have thought journalists could generate such interest?
Solis reckons this personal brand extension is good for journalists and good for their employers. I agree. That’s one reason why I have recently taken up Twitter with such alacrity (see that widget on the right!), and it’s also the reason I’ve included a note at the bottom of my column in Time Out Hong Kong (column will be online soon) asking people to follow me on Twitter. Of course, that means I’ll have to watch what I say and how I behave on Twitter and on this blog, but I’m also of the opinion that if you’re a journalist you should always be conscious of what you publish in the public sphere anyway.
By reaching out to people beyond the printed page, journalists can humanise themselves and become more accessible, leading to increased interaction, exchanges of information, and more transparency in what is ultimately a flawed profession (if you even want to call it that). It also helps keep that journalist’s (and, when applicable, their respective publication’s) work top of mind for their followers — something that will prove vital in a cluttered world of always-available, always instant information. On a more pragmatic level, the ability to send out links to stories and sites will directly affect traffic and readership.
For many reasons, this next five years is going to be pretty crappy for many journalists. There will be job losses. There will be closures. There will be mass migrations to the murky world of public relations. But there’s also going to be large doses of awesome new developments, and there will still be jobs for the journalists who really get it, who embrace the social age, and for journalists who love to connect with people and tell stories.
Because I’m one of the people who fall into that camp, I’m looking forward to the next five years. So when I’m out of a job, make sure you remind me of this post.
Despite a previous post questioning the usefulness of Twitter, I’ve decided to join the club. And I’m not doing it by half-measures. I am officially a twitterer/tweeter/tank. I’ll be updating there frequently — hell, it’s much easier than blogging — under the name HKHam.
Please look me up. We’ll have some fun together (as long as its under 140 characters).