Conversations: Am I Missing Something? Help!

I’m no scholar, but I did Google the terms “saving journalism” and “future of journalism”, and didn’t find the answer I was looking for, so I’m turning it over to you.

With all the doom and gloom recently, Newspapers are f’ed, you’d think that someone would have stepped-in by now and tried to help revive our dying industry, right? That’s what I’m asking.

I’m a glass half-full kinda guy, but even I’m beginning to see the glass as a little more empty every day. I’ll admit it, I’m scared.
I know there are deep pockets in journalism, for example, The Knight News Challenge contest awards $5 million for ideas using digital media to deliver news and information in real time to people in real places. There are more deep pockets, I’m sure. But how about $5 million to help deliver a saving breath to journalism, in real time.
Now this is my serious and naive question, why aren’t these deep pocket patrons of journalism, setting-up journalism incubators in major cities around the country, hiring folks from the business world and some very talented and laid off journalists, to figure this whole thing out. I’m talking about the bigger questions. Revenue models, usability and design, along with local and citizen journalism innovations, etc.

When I read things like this:

Former San Francisco Chronicle Editor Phil Bronstein said: “Anybody who tells you they have the answer to that question, ‘what’s the successful business model for journalism,’ is lying to you. Because no one has it.

Inside I’m screaming, “Shouldn’t SOMEONE have the answer? or at least be working on it?” You know, like in a Hollywood movie when a space shuttle in orbit is having trouble and the crew will die if the smart folks in the room don’t come up with an answer on how to get them back to earth, FAST. They circle the wagons, gather the smartest folks and lock them in a room until they figure this crap out!

So, is someone working on it? Please tell me they are, so I can sleep at night. I picture a smoke filled room somewhere, with important people with deep pockets, putting their resources together to figure things out? Is this just a dream? Too naive? Doesn’t corporate America do this kind of thing when they’re backed in a corner? Why can’t journalism companies and foundations do it? Are they?

-r

7 comments

  1. Carl Sessions Stepp has articulated some interesting ideas in an American Journalism Review article which can be read here:
    http://www.ajr.org/Article.asp?id=4491

    It’s clear that most papers, in practice, care more about short-term quarterly profits than longterm investments.

    Having answers to these kinds of problems requires adequate investment in Research & Development. Many tech companies, for example, invest upwards of 25% or more of their net profits in R&D. The solutions to these problems also require longterm strategic planning and thinking, which takes valuable time.

    I would say that there was a point maybe two years ago where proper long-term strategy and foresight could have helped to prevent what is happening now. But that point is long gone. In my opinion.

    It’s really the hubris and the arrogance of the journalism establishment resisting change that has fucked all of us in the long-run. People have been warning about this shit for years, to no avail.

    I personally have suggested more radical ideas, such as my call for a Global Journalism Union but the reality of the matter is that any out-of-the-box creative thinking is something that is generally abhorred in the journalism industry.

    Anything going against the status quo is typically regarded as heresy, regardless of it’s potential legitimacy or relevancy. It apparently takes years for the truth to sink in
    an industry where it should be instantaneous.

    Perhaps somewhat predictable, for an industry that has remained relatively unchanged for 40+ years.

    Journalists are not typically rewarded for coming up with fresh ideas, they are punished. Coming up with a workable solution may take hundreds of failed attempts, and failure is simply not an option in this risk-adverse industry.

    In my opinion, there are two options at this point in time:
    1) A Global Journalism Union
    2) Wait for the entire industry to collapse, first, then reorganize

    If the entire industry collapses and almost everybody is out of a job, then some real change and development will happen because journalists will no longer have anything to lose once they’ve lost it all.

    Right now, working journalists have everything to lose with no time to figure out a solution and no leeway for risk and failure.

    Patching a broken system probably isn’t going to work at this point in time.
    What we really need is a complete and utter overhaul of the system from the ground up with no regrets and no looking back.

    Perhaps we need to invest our money in a global union to figure out these very solutions for all of us?

  2. Interesting questions. I guess that’s market forces for you.

    It will be interesting to see what happens when/if journalism in its current guise is no longer financially sustainable (other than by public bodies such as the BBC in the UK).

    What would a world without journalism be like?

    Will there be a backlash? Will people then be prepared to pay for reliable news coverage?

    Let’s hope so.

  3. Its a great question. I agree that there should be SOMEBODY thinking about this.

    I’m pretty interested in the non-profit news organization model. This was brought to my attention by the Frontline series “News War.” I think its a great way for journalists to make their first loyalty to the citizens(not the stock holders).

    Also I’m encouraged by the increased demand for original reporting the internet has created.

    I think management needs to make sure that they don’t just talk about how the internet will change everything, but actually go out and try some stuff.

    Dan

  4. There’s no question that there are a lot of people out there working feverishly on this issue. Because it appears to be affecting all media equally, you have to assume there isn’t an obvious answer. Patrick is right when he says short term profits aggravate any search for a meaningful solution. But I think that’s only one part of the problem. The other part is leadership.

    By and large the people trying to work their way out of this mess are the same ones who got themselves in it. The management structure that couldn’t see the impact of the internet and changing demographics on their product are being asked to take a second look at it now. I’m not sure they’re any better at understanding it today in part because the only guidance they’re getting is from the retail sector of the internet. Newspapers are a unique product, and don’t translate as conveniently to the internet as other commerce.

    Leadership may also be a generational problem.

    Certainly, the leadership of most newspapers has not changed appreciably in the last decade insofar as newsroom executives are concerned. And as things get worse, they manage harder and are less willing to avail themselves to new opportunities or possibilities. Advertising on section fronts is not new or innovative.

    For certain newsroom leadership is stubborn in allowing new leadership to surface. In the last decade there has been a dearth of promotion of visual journalists into leadership roles. It’s more difficult to point to the Gilkas, McDougals, or Clarksons in newspapers any longer, even as some studies seem to suggest that print will have to morph into an even more photography-intensive medium, and online into streaming content. (Although arguably online is more successful in promoting visual people, like Andrew DeVigal and such in to leadership roles).

    And certainly there seems to be resistance by editors to let proven content grow when other content lags behing; sports and politics being two examples that suffer from a lack of space when both are draws to loyal readership).

    Bronstein is right when he says nobody has the answer. But whatever answer ends up working it’s more likely to have been a bottom-up solution rather than top-down. Newspaper executives are going to have to stop forcing solutions based on their own histories, and instead enlist their rank and file into shaping their own futures.

    That’s my take anyway.