The stewardship of journalism’s future

Now how’s that for a haughty headline? But it’s what I’ve been asking myself lately: Does journalism have the right protectors, builders, supporters, stewards? One has to wonder based on the news about news just in the last 48 hours:

The LA Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer get rid of their editors but bring in more editors like them. No offense to any of these editors, fine journalists, all, I’m sure. But if you want to change, don’t you want to bring in new people to do new things? That’s what Mark Potts wonders. That’s what I shrieked about here.

And then we have rich egotists trying to buy the LA Times or Tribune Company (not to mention the Boston Globe) and that’s all about rich boys’ toys and nothing about bringing in new ways to reinvent the news business. It merely staves off the inevitable… for a few weeks (witness Philadelphia and its layoffs). And then there’s Morgan Stanley pressuring the NY Times Company to change its management and stock structure.

I spent some of the last 24 hours at the FourSquare conference, which is filled with CEOs and moneymen in suits. Last year, there were lots of newspaper execs there. This year, fewer. It’s an off-the-record schoozefest so I won’t quote the moguls by name, but a couple of guys who run very big, very new companies, each barely a decade old, agreed that their organizations can’t invent from within. That’s why they’re buying companies from outside.

And so I thought about the newspaper business. If these new, successful, innovative, smart, large media companies can’t invent, how can we expect for a second that the existing newspaper industry can invent its future? It can’t. Full stop.

So the future of news gathering and sharing and vetting and investigating needs to be built on the outside. But is it? Not much is. (And I’m not referring to the ventures I’m involved with: Daylife and; consider them present companies excepted and see my disclosures here.) I don’t see enough development going on in new news efforts — enough to save journalism from the sinking news business. And that’s what’s troubling me. The old players are proving to be quite ineffective stewards — we knew that — but there aren’t enough new stewards joining the church.

I’m obnoxiously optimistic about the future of news: the definitions of it are exploding along with the new means to gather, share, judge it. I am confident that the public wants news; the society demands to be informed. I know there are no end of great opportunities. I’m just surprised that so few of them are being grasped. The old players can’t do it. We need more new players to take hold of the future of news — not just journalists but entrepreneurs and managers and investors and inventors. It’s there for the taking.