Another week, another round of debate about the future of journalism. As usual, I’m too overwhelmed with my own duties of news reporting, commentary, consulting, and small business administrivia — not to mention basketball-watching and kitchen repair — to chime in at the length I’d like. But even given those limitations, I’d like to reiterate something I said in a prior post about the evolving information ecosystem:
a significant fraction of news is something large organizations have a vested interest in releasing
In my opinion, that’s a crucial point. On subjects where primary sources want information to get out, traditional journalists are not needed to relay news. Comment (especially sceptically)? Sure. Filter? Maybe. Story-tell? Yes, but only if news-as-entertainment is your idea of fun.
Basically, the “death of media” concerns should for the most part be restricted to the future of investigative features. When one thinks of major investigative reporting that society would have been poorer without, it’s usually either a feature story or a series of articles that might as well have been a feature. The reason those are threatened is that their huge value to society is not always paired with a huge “fun”/”interest” factor in consuming the stories, and hence traditional attention-based economic models may not work for them.
In essence, most investigative journalism is bundled into larger publications and broadcast enterprises. (Even the TV show 60 Minutes seems to get its viewership more from celebrity interviews than journalistic exposes. At least, that’s a reasonable inference based on what segments they particularly emphasize in their marketing.) This can make good business sense on at least two levels:
- They increase the branding and perception of the whole news package.
- To a first approximation, they’re a subsidized public good. But this helps news organizations maintain a status in society extremely useful in getting them access, employees, and legal protection essential to their overall business models.
The disaggregation of news is undermining both of those business cases. To me, that’s the true part of the Chicken Littleish scares.
Offhand, I can think of only two kinds of investigative journalism that directly pay for themselves. One is sober investigations that have pretty tangible benefits – stock short-sale recommendations, Consumer Reports, and the like. The other is entertaining scandal-mongering, most notably in the area of celebrity gossip. That’s the starting point from which we need to build.
- Rupert Murdoch claimed that his newspapers will start charging much more for online content within the next 12 months. Mockery ensued.
- Mark Hopkins argued succinctly that newspapers have gone from being oligopolists or monopolists to facing vigorous competition, and that’s the root of their problems.
- Ryan Tate offered a heap of examples of unpaid bloggers doing detailed, local reporting, in a blistering rebuttal to traditional newspapers’ claims to the contrary.
- A few weeks ago, it was AP’s turn to inspire mockery by announcing an intent to rein in free use of content.
- In a discussion set off by a tweet of mine, James Kobelius argued that analysts and journalists have always done substantially the same things.
- I’ve been seeing the word “curation” all over. Here’s an example in a company description (see the bio). More important, here it is in Sawhorse Media’s elevator pitch, which involves helping brand-owing companies do their own curation for the benefit of their own audiences. Jeff Jarvis seems to be pushing the curation idea hard. And come to think of it — if this long, annotated link list and its predecessors aren’t “curation,” what is?
- Jeff Jarvis offered his own take on the future of the information ecosystem, focused on the general-news area.
- Douglas McIntyre bemoaned the impending shrinkage of the major business magazines’ editorial staffs, and offered a feature on Bernie Madoff as an example of the kind of reporting it would be a pity to lose. I clicked through and read the whole feature, which I found somewhat interesting, not least because I used to be an investment professional myself. But you know what? I’m not sure the many tens of thousands of dollars he implies that feature cost to write really bought an equivalent value in societal protection against future wrong-doing.
- Eliezer_Yudkowsky argued that online communities suffer if they don’t weed out the jerks, or at least obnoxious behavior. Ken Burnside reports on a humorous extreme, in which argument is allowed only in the form of haiku. However, the Washington Post argued that anonymous jerks have their benefits, apparently by showing just how bigoted and obnoxious people’s thoughts really are.
- MySpace Music doesn’t seem to be producing great financial results — some advanced data warehousing software notwithstanding.
- The Wall Street Journal raised some FUD about regulatory implications of indiscreet tweeting.
- Mark Taylor opined in favor of dynamiting the ivory tower.
- Doc Searls clarified his “micro-accounting” — as opposed to micro-payments — plan.
- Forrester projected large continued growth in online advertising, at the expense of offline ads.
- Andrew Orlowski was too busy being a sexist jerk to say anything useful. (Misogyny is standard practice for Orlowski.)
- The Wikipedia-as-a-news-source issue resurfaced.