The past two weeks’ readings don’t paint a pretty picture for journalists, such as myself.
Clay Shirky wrote that we’re in for a period of constant change. One key comment of his: It’s easier to see what’s broken than what will replace the old model. Anybody can publish anything anytime.
Craigs List has decimated classified ad revenue for newspapers. Readers have become accustomed to finding their news online for free instead of buying the printed newspaper. Newspaper executives have decimated their staffs. Thanks to blogs, readers can find plenty of information online. But I place more confidence in the work by independent, professional journalists.
Dan Conover threw out a particularly distressing concept. Newspapers might begin to outsource content. Could the newspaper of the future simply have contract reporters who write for a pittance and don’t have health insurance? Poorer quality can only result.
Ned May showed us in class how computers can write simple articles all by themselves! Dios Mio!
Doc Searls said that viewers are willing to pay for the goods they use. But would it be possible to establish a system where readers pay small change for each article?
Amanda Michel’s “Get Off the Bus” piece left me unconvinced about the effectiveness of volunteer citizen journalists. Michel began her piece with what is presumably her best evidence: A citizen journalist was admitted to an Obama campaign event and recorded him making an impolitic statement about the gun culture. Yes, the citizen journalist got into an event closed to the mainstream press. But that Obama’s comment had a big echo required the mainstream media.
Michel also cites how “Off the Bus” sent out citizen journalists to determine whether Obama’s anti-war message in late 2007 was a game-changer and reported that they found voters to be more concerned with domestic issues. I can only imagine that a competent political reporter would have pollsters saying the same thing.
I was more persuaded of why reporters ought to monitor political blogs by how Peter Daou anticipated what became the Swift Boat negative ads by tracking conservatives’ blogs. (Interestingly, Daou did not report this in his article, “The Triangle,” but Professor Nicco Mele mentioned it in class.)
But I tend to be an optimist, so let me focus on the positive. Some newspaper paywalls are working, such as the FT’s and the New York Times’. I attended a recent talk where the Boston Globe’s publisher and editor outlined their innovative paywall. Interestingly, they already have boston.com so they have created a new site that only paid subscribers can access. Marty Baron, the editor, said a core group of readers is willing to pay for solid reporting. If so, newspapers cannot cut too far without turning away some of their paying readers.
At the same time, after waiting too long, newspaper executives seem to be launching the innovations that Shirky says will be a constant part of life for the forseeable future. Besides the paywalls, newspapers are no longer waiting until tomorrow to report the big news of the day. They are constantly updating their websites. They are beginning to use video and slide shows, although newspaper editors interviewing their reporters often seems like a high school production.
Some newspapers, such as the Guardian, are even beginning to experiment with crowdsourcing to choose topics to cover. Reporters are finding ways to get better stories thanks to Twitter and Facebook.
Finally, I take comfort from Shirky and Jaron Lanier arguing that good journalism is badly needed, in whatever form it is delivered. “Society doesn’t need newspapers,” Shirky wrote in “Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable.” “It does need journalists.”
So I will hope that newspaper publishers and editors will find ways to make enough money so reporters like me can continue to write big-impact stories.