Every time we hear about another cutback in newspapers — and there are plenty of them these days — we automatically hear the notion that journalism jobs must be saved to save journalism. I’m afraid it’s time to challenge that assumption.
Saving journalism isn’t about saving jobs or even newspapers. In fact, the goal shouldn’t be just to save journalism but to grow it, expand it, explode it, taking advantage of all the amazing new means to gather and share news we have today.
Start with the real goals, which are informing society, keeping power in check, improving people’s lives, making connections (right?) and then ask what the best ways are to do that today. After that, you can ask what the role of journalists and newspapers should be.
Maybe we need fewer people in newsrooms and need to take money to hire a lot more people outside newsrooms to gather more news. Maybe we need to put resources into training those people or vetting their work. Maybe we simply need to recognize that news is no longer a monopoly business that can operate at monopoly margins and we need to prioritize where we put our resources. Maybe we need to look at online as a primary source of current news and at newspapers as a source of analysis and perspective and unique reporting. Maybe we can’t support daily newspapers everywhere. Maybe some of those journalists will become independent publishers (see: Debbie Galant at Baristanet) and newspaper companies will run ad networks.
: There’s a great discussion going on in Philadelphia about saving the Daily News and that’s why I’m asking these questions: What does it mean to save it?
It started with Will Bunch writing on the Daily News blog Attytood. Philly blog king Karl Martino picked this up and sent email to folks he knows — bloggers, journalists, educators — suggesting that we get together to help explore this with Bunch. And the Philadelphia Inquirer’s blog prince, Dan Rubin, weighed in just as cutbacks were going on in his newsroom. Bunch’s opener was wonderful. Yes, he starts lamenting the loss of journalists’ jobs — of course; they are his friends and his colleagues and the people who produce his paper — but then he goes on to see the necessity of a different, a bigger future:
As I write this, the Daily News – where even before this fall the newsroom, with its depopulated desks, looked like a neutron bomb had struck, and where management chose to not even replace three staffers who died in 2004 – is nevertheless losing another 25 journalists, or 19 percent of the total….
It’s human nature, I guess, but the first inclination is to blame somebody, and there’s plenty of blame to go around….
But assigning blame won’t save the Philadelphia Daily News. Besides, much of the blame really lies with us, as journalists. We have, for the most part, allowed our product to become humorless and dull. In an era when it seems most people truly will be famous for 15 minutes, newspapers have stubbornly avoided creating personalities…or having a personality, for that matter. In a pathologically obsessive quest for two false goddesses – named Objectivity and Balance – we have completely ceded the great American political debate to talk radio, cable TV and the Internet, where people have learned that politics is actually interesting and even fun when people are allowed to take sides.
We prefer to talk down to the public rather than talk to them. Even at our very best – and there are many, many talented newspaper journalists in America – we are more likely to aim at wooing contest judges than at wooing new readers. And we have a knee-jerk tendency to defend our narrow world of messy ink printed on dead trees, when instead the time is here to redefine who we are and what we do.
We are, and can continue to be, the front-line warriors of information — serving up the most valuable commodity in a media-driven era. But that means we must be the message, not the medium, and so we must adjust to give consumers news in the high-tech ways that they are asking for, not the old-tech way that we are confortable with.
If we don’t change, we will die – and it will be our fault.
It defies all the conventional wisdom, but I believe that the Philadelphia Daily News can be an agent of that change – and not a victim. In fact, in seeking to destroy the Daily News in a death of a thousand cuts, our corporate masters in San Jose have, unintentionally, liberated us – because having nothing left to lose is another term for freedom.
Because with a staff that is now too small to cover every news story, we can learn how to cover just the stories that truly matter to people, and cover the heck out of them….
Hence, the “norg.” “Norg” because we need to lose our old identity with one dying medium, newspapers, and stress our most valuable commodity, the one that we truly own, and that is news…without the paper. Thus, we must now be news organizations, or “norgs.” …
Everybody up off your feet and give Bunch a standing O. That is exactly the kind of attitude and imagination and determination that will, indeed, save journalism.
This isn’t about circling wagons defensively anymore. Nor is it about cutbacks. Nor denial. Nor resenting the new guys. This is about invention.
: Meanwhile the shock therapy goes on.
A major stockholder wants Knight Ridder to put itself up for sale.
Goldman Sachs says it’s a crappy year for newspapers:
I’s official: 2005 will be the newspaper industry’s worst year since the last ad industry recession. And things aren’t looking much better for next year either, according to a top Wall Street firm’s report on newspaper publishing. “Sadly, 2005 is shaping up as the industry’s worst year from a revenue growth perspective since the recession impacted 2001-2002 period,” says the report from Goldman Sachs, adding a warning that meaningful growth in 2006 is “very unlikely.”
The Wall Street Journal says the failing newspaper industry will see consolidation (free link):
Along with steel, autos and airlines, daily newspapers would seem to be yet another mature U.S. industry that is prime for consolidation. Analysts are increasingly pessimistic about the prospects for growth as advertising revenue continues to move online. Stocks of many newspaper companies now trade near multiyear lows….
Newspapers still dominate local news and advertising in many markets. That could attract a company such as Yahoo, which has moved increasingly into original content and would like to develop its local reach. Meanwhile, Google Inc. has expressed interest in entering the classified-ad market, where newspapers have deep relationships and continue to play a dominant role. Knight Ridder is part-owner of CareerBuilder Inc., the online classified Web site that competes with Monster.com….
But Knight Ridder’s larger papers are the ones buyers are most likely to balk at. These papers, like those at many newspaper companies, are dragging down the company. Big-city papers have taken it on the chin as urban advertisers and readers have defected to the Internet. Knight Ridder has distressed papers in Philadelphia, Miami and San Jose, Calif. Circulation in those markets is falling, and big advertisers such as department stores are consolidating.
Lately, some of the most successful newspaper companies have stayed in the newspaper business by getting out of it. Washington Post Co. and E.W. Scripps Co., for instance, have both diversified into other industries….
If I owned a newspaper, I’d sell it, wouldn’t you? If I were Yahoo, would I buy it? Maybe only Yahoo and Google could consolidate the advertising marketplace to make big media work still.
I’m not going to complain about media consolidation when all this happens (though I know plenty of others will). What we’re seeing, I’ll say again, is just the dinosaurs huddling against the cold of the internet ice age. The poor, old, lumbering beasts have to stick together.
For the growth isn’t going to be on the big side. The growth is going to be on the small side, in new, ad hoc networks of content, promotion, advertising, and trust…. networks that could spring out of the one that is swarming around Bunch’s post, networks that care about news.
The goal is to save daily news, whether or not you save the Daily News.