The Future of Journalism

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Almost every daily in the country has slashed staff, some left with editorial departments half the size of a year ago, or less. Page counts are down dramatically and local content has suffered.  Re-designs of print and web happen daily, and some papers and magazines have been forced to give up. (Here are just a few of the depressing links - Tampa Tribune, St. Petersburg Times, Time, Christian Science Monitor, New York Sun, oh why not just bookmark

Where does that leave you? On On Point, Sullivan was amped up about the changes to journalism, claiming that blogs are very useful at pushing stories that might get missed into the national consciousness. "For investigative reporting that no one reads," he said, "what we can do as bloggers is get people to read it, as well as get the primary sources in front of people." For him, bloggers and web journalists expand the dry news of the old guard, admittedly a very valuable service. That's called value-added news aggregation.

He's right, of course, but he also acknowledged that "I am essentially parasitic on a dying model." He, along with most bloggers and news aggregators out there, needs someone in traditional media to do the actual reporting.

"We forget that this information is derived by working reporters," explained Lemann. "That’s going away." With drastically fewer journalists working national and local beats, there's just less information out there for the populace, no matter how many people expand upon and repackage that info for the web. That's a huge problem for anyone who sees media as the watchdog of more than celebrity divorces and DUI arrests. He brought up the coverage of Hurricane Katrina, saying that "blogging is good for telling you when power is coming back on, but it’s not good for figuring out why the city was destroyed."

Brown sees online media as a new entity that should not replace traditional newsgathering: "When mainstream media wants to throw away all the reporters and do something online and try to find a new business model, that’s crazy. That is suicide." Sure, but even she can't tell us how to stop the flow of blood from our wrists.

So how do we save the value of traditional journalism in a web-centric environment? Sullivan pointed to sites like fivethirtyeight, which has been sending out observers to write narrative articles about the average folk involved in the election as an example of actual reporting done by bloggers. A better choice would have been Talking Points Memo, a liberal blog that's actually hired investigative journalists and broken stories over the past couple of years. That's something, but it's a drop in the bucket. And none of them will be telling you about the trashing of local environmental regulations or the county commissioner's race.

Only Lemann had some practical ideas, tossed out with the weariness of someone tired of railing at media leaders and political figures. He thinks we should revisit the idea of paid content, citing targeted media like Bloomberg and Consumer Reports as working models of that despite the fact that pretty much the entire media industry has toyed and rejected it. Do you want to pay for web news?

He also thinks that "some mix of public and private policy structures needs to be improvised, in addition to the market solution." NPR, anyone?

So, is blogging the future of journalism? Nope. But neither are newspapers. And as much as we journalists are popping anti-depressants, re-writing our resumes and girding ourselves for careers in public relations and retail management while simultaneously trying to Ouija board the future of journalism, you guys are the ones who are going to either suffer, or benefit, the most.

You need news. How are you going to get it? How are we going to make money giving it to you? Let us know and maybe we can help you out with that.

The NPR program On Point spent an hour this morning trying to decide: "Can Bloggers Save Journalism?" Most of it was fairly on point (heh) but it quickly became apparent that a more apt name for the show would have been "No One Knows Shit About The Future Of Journalism."

Andrew Sullivan — editor at the Atlantic, popular blogger of The Daily Dish, and writer of pro-blogging articles like "Why I Blog" — acted as the voice of optimism, which makes sense when you realize that his blog gets more hits than the Christian Science Monitor. Dean of Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism Nicholas Lemann (author of the seminal anti-citizen journalist piece "Amateur Hour"), served as party-pooper and realist. They also threw in Tina Brown — journalism's kid-genius of the '70s who recently started The Daily Beast — to add a few moderating tidbits. In the end, though no one could come up with an answer to what journalism is going to look like in 20 years. Or five, for that matter.

The death of traditional journalism has been on the minds of reporters for years now, brought about by a synergy of falling ad revenue and the inevitable migration of readers to the great, democratizing power of the internet. Likely, it's a little too inside baseball for many of our readers, at least until the news that CL filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection a month ago. Even then, the average Joe the Reader probably can't summon up much concern, since he can find News of the Weird and local events listings on a number of other sites.

For us — journalists, editors and media moguls — it's about all we can think about. I started writing for CL a little over five years ago as little more than a hobby that happened to bring in extra dough and some free meals. Last year, I made journalism my sole source of income. Great timing.

Now, CL — and every traditional media outlet in the nation, from alt-weeklies to national dailies to broadcast news — is bumbling along the muddled and obscured path to the future of journalism. Don't think that we're just not adapting quickly or are innovative enough to make the switch, 'cause we're smart, and trying to forge ahead. Truth is, the entire industry is desperately grasping for the elusive business model that makes bringing you the news (and criticism and local flavor) profitable over the long haul. No one's found it, yet.

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