The way we consume news has changed. With the proliferation of social media and networks, we find that we rely more and more on each other for a local angle on global issues -- not only the words and opinions, also facts, figures, and pictorial testimonials of what's going on. The news has an expiration date and time -- and our attention spans have given the cycle an even shorter leash.
It is not a secret that TV broadcasting has become more entertainment than news these days. In her passionate conversation with us last month, Christiane Amanpour was decrying the loss of robust budgets for in depth reporting. What to say about the state of radio broadcasting news? What is left of print journalism may seem to pale in comparison with a social media that is multi -- micro-blogging, video casts, podcasts and blogs -- at the service of hyper local and subjective information and conversation.
New media networks have forced main stream media online gratis (at a or near loss in costs even as readership is higher) -- and that has precipitated a crisis on paid resources and budgets, one that many seasoned journalists have felt across the board. The Philadelphia Inquirer has gone through a number of staff reductions and rationalizations in the last few years alone, for example.
This premise might be cause for great concern. I have not made a secret of the fact that we need journalist and news editors more today than we ever did. It's sufficient to think about the Associated Press (AP), the behind the scenes influencers of what we read about and how it is delivered to us. Many journalists are dedicated professionals who are indeed devoted to truth and to their craft.
A few news organizations have been able to offer paid content online -- The Wall Street Journal was an example and so was The New York Times. Yet the tearing down of the paid wall, at least for the NYT was a no brainer, as the readership jumped by 7.5 million eyeballs worldwide.
New Media Needs a New Model
AP News editor Doug Fisher responds to the old argument of "pay to read" main stream media put forth by David Lazarus formerly of S.F. Chronicle and now with the L.A. Times. As you may have confirmed these past two weeks, we have indeed a new generation that is quite smart about economics and the proper value and definition of news that suits their worldview. Which is quite different from the "small patch of sky" -- as Fisher describes what is viewed as the known model -- the old way of creating and delivering news and information.
Yet new media needs a new model desperately. Gratis is not sustainable long term -- skilled and experienced resources come at a price, one we should want to pay in some form other than interruption advertising.
When it comes to revenue generating models (mainly advertising) small is the new big, says Jeff Jarvis at Buzz Machine. I agree with him (and with Seth Godin), the Internet is an entirely new economy, one where it makes sense to have a high volume in local and niche conversations. Hence the rise in interest of hyper-local news.
Re-Imagining the News Business
Profitability remains the million dollar question and quest. Perhaps one answer is to disaggregate the news business into separate, marketable skills. Dave Morgan or AOL puts forth this possibility in a thought-provoking post at OnlineSPIN. Jarvis responded with a very insightful post of his own -- cutting up a newspaper.
Could news organizations act as disaggregated networks? Would they be able to find a way to pool resources and come up with different results like social media? Could they form around social networks, for example? Would we gain even more fluff at the expense of truth and facts? How would we respond and react to greater co-creation of analysis?
Rather than seeing pessimism, I see a lot of possibility ahead of us. New media will re-imagine journalism, it already has. The business model is desperately seeking reinvention, too. Mobile journalism, smarter integration with citizen and social media need money to be sustainable. If news and media organizations learn to think like platforms, they also need a revenue stream that allows them to operate as such.
As we head into 2008, we may see more 200-pound vs. 800-pound gorillas. What is your take?
[hat tip to Bruno Giussani for many of the links. Photos of Italian journalists and authors Beppe Severgnini and Enzo Biagi from two different generations. In memoriam of Biagi who died recently.]