Media’s change-haters

I wanted to get out of my growly phase this week, really, I did, but this just adds the cherry: The Atlantic and the National Journal poll an infinitesimal sample of mostly old-media farts (Kos and Josh Marshall aside) and the majority concludes that the internet hurts journalism. Restrain me. Quotes:

“The Internet trains readers to consume news in ever-smaller bites. This is a disaster for newspapers and magazines,” says one small bite. Did it ever occur that maybe people never read your overlong stories; you just didn’t know it?

“The Internet has some plusses,” says another, giving a caveat that you know will be followed by a few buts, “It has widened the circle of those participating in the national debate. But it has mortally wounded the financial structure of the news business so that the cost of doing challenging, independent reporting has become all but prohibitive all over the world. It has blurred the line between opinion and fact and created a dynamic in which extreme thought flourishes while balanced judgment is imperiled.” No, it has presented new journalistic and media opportunities to gather and share news in new ways and fine new efficiencies and reach new audiences. It has also brought new openness and demands of transparency regarding the opinions of those who long called themselves just bearers of fact. Judgment is ours, say the people, and that’s where the balance lies.

“News consumption depends on news production, and I don’t see anything on the Internet that produces news—that is, detailed responsible empirical journalism—the way newspapers do (or did). It is typical of Americans to get more excited about consumption than about production.” Boy does that encapsulate the snottiness of old media.

Thank goodness for the minority:

“Sure there’s sludge, and I can feel overwhelmed by quantity–but the range and quality of what’s at my fingertips every morning is astonishing.”

“You abandon the conceit that ‘newspapers’ equals ‘news,’ you realize that people have far more information available to them about current events than ever before, and that’s a great thing for both journalism (the gathering of news) and the public.”

[via Gawker in Twitter, that nasty bite-sized new medium]

  • Ted

    Only in North America do people believe in “empirical journalism” or unbiased reporting. Europeans assume all journalism has a bias because all individuals have an inherent bias and they express scorn at those who profess to be reporting only the facts. A younger generation’s migration to the internet may be an acknowledgment of the same view.

    • “Absolute truth is a very rare and dangerous commodity in the context of professional journalism. ” ~ Hunter S. Thompson

    • So inherent human bias means objectivity is dead? I will say, til my dying breath, BS. Pure, total BS.
      Analysis is fine. Editorializing is fine. But people crave fair, objective, unbiased journalism – in whatever form, at whatever level.
      To the level of a Little League game in a neighborhood blog: They want to read “The Jackson Street Cougars were edged 4-3 by the sterling pitching of Andy Clark.” Not “The Cougars couldn’t win a game if it were handed to them on a silver platter.”
      The Internet makes objectivity MORE dear, not less. Why does anyone who profess that appear to be branded a dinosaur, a curmudgeon? It boggles the mind.
      Of course we should move beyond “he said, but they said” notebook dumps. But no one elected or appointed journalists to decide who’s right and who’s wrong. That’s for others to decide. Turn up wrongdoing? Expose it, but give the alleged wrongdoer his chance to defend him or herself.
      Those are the principles I was born with, and will live and die with, long after not a drop of ink is spilled or tree felled create these ancient rags called newspapers. Not on a high horse, but not going with the digital flow, I suppose.

      • Just because journalist call themselves objective or even truly strive for objectivity – this does not make it so. I am highly dubious of anybody who claims to be truly objective. I just don’t see it in my reality.

        As with so many serious news junkies, I’ve learned that objectivity or balance can only come in the aggregate.

        I’ve always had a wide range of sources – predicated on NPR. Talking of which, here’s a very interesting talk about a study of the so-called echo chamber effect. Turns out that hi-tech news junkies get more inputs from more viewpoints, not less.

  • Rob K.

    Jeff- Great post for the cherry. Forgetting for a moment about the Internet’s effect on the consumption of news, it HAS fundamentally changed the business of newspapers. The primary revenue of newspapers (around 70%) were print classifieds, a really crummy (non searchable) product which lazy newspaper sales people sold via in bound calls. When Monster and Craigslist killed that business, the newspapers responded with… nothing. Actually, they responded with their own mediocre online sites sold by lazy in-bound sales people who bundled online with print to protect the print dinosaur.

  • Internet News (Blogs and such) = Much Better Informed (from all sides)

    +

    Developing more relationships constantly.

    –News/Media Business Models Based on Restriction = Lack of Creativity–

  • Jason Wallis

    Jeff, I read your book and really enjoyed it. I really respect you as an intellectual. However, like most academics you seem to be living in a protective bubble:
    I believe the bigger picture is you offer little to NO reasonable solutions to this issue.
    For all your friends that is just “wonderful” that everything is free however, reporters, magazines, newspapers, musicians, artists and photographers have to make a living (for our economy’s sake also).
    Google is destroying their lively hood. The IRONYis that Google profits immensely from all the link-sharing and blogs because they SELL ads down the sides and they control the search rankings (hence sites with their ad words will show up higher in rankings).
    I have no doubt the newspapers will all go out of business soon and Google will become a behemoth “employing” all the reporters and photographers to post their stories “freelance” on the almighty google news site. That will not be a good thing. All the while they will make billions with their ad links…

    • BW

      Programmers and web developers and web designers have to make a living too. At least reporters and writers actually get a credit and have had time to establish their name. Personally I’ve probably written a lot of code for news sites you’ve read, and you have no idea who I am.
      On top of that, I studied C language in college to get a job. Now I’ve had to, yes, ADAPT to a new language, since there aint many sites using that nowadays. So pardon some of us web dudes for not really being too upset that the newspapers keep whining. :/

      • Paul Evans

        I have read quite a few potential solutions suggested by Jarvis and others. I know from experience that most US newspapers have seriously tried few if any of the serious ways to find new revenue. Most have put almost all of their effort into cutting costs.

        But even if Google is robbing newspapers I can’t help but ask: Whose fault is that? Why didn’t a newspaper company invent Google? If one had, do you think they would be willing to bend over and let their brethren “share the profits”?

        Also, I am pretty sure if you read this site you will have noticed that Jarvis does not suggest that everything should be free. He only suggests that it doesn’t make sense to try and charge for something people won’t pay for. Unfortunately, that is pretty much what newspapers are discussing today.

    • I’m sorry Jason but it just is not true that “reporters, magazines, newspapers, musicians, artists and photographers have to make a living (for our economy’s sake also).” There are billions of people that can write and probably hundreds of millions that can write well. There are many millions that have real artistic or musical talent.

      The difference is that the computer and internet has given these talented people the ability to be their own publisher of news, literature, music, art, photography etc. The difference is that they used to need a printing plant or have a music publisher, etc. Now they can do it for free or at most become their own publisher for less than $50 per year for a domain name and web site.

      They have talent and want to be creative and so they will. There is not enough money to pay everyone for their talents. The real boom in the internet and computers has happened in the last 10-15 years and you can see the writing on the wall. There soon will be no money in any of these fields. Any demand will be supplied by volunteers who need to express their creativity.

      I’m sorry your job is disappearing fast. Find another line of work, like so many of the rest of us have had to do. Keep your talent and creativity, because the world will value it. It just won’t pay you for it anymore.

      • John I understand what you are saying and certainly don’t think the world owes us a living. My real gripe is that Jim’s schadenfreude at the demise of the newspapers. I agree with him it is a reality and probably unstoppable at this point.
        However, Google stands to profit from the break up of all these magazines and newspapers because of their adwords and page ranking. Indeed Jim makes money from them on his blog as do the other creatives you talk about.
        The newpapers and magazines used to give reporters and photographers, etc a voice and reach. Sure the internet allows this but, really, let’s think about who controls this… not the people but Google.
        I have put my website here for disclosure.
        Jason

      • Not pay for good journalism? If true, sad – and scary. Joni Mitchell: ‘Don’t it always seem to go, that we don’t know what we’ve got ’til it’s gone…”

  • Jason Wallis

    Google will be the biggest empire soon… forget about Newspaper antitrusts. Can you say Microsoft 2.0

    • Solitude

      Linux 2.0.

      Sorry, that is as close as I can come.

  • Hi Jeff, I’m a long-time reader (and fan of your blog). and am with you on things needing to CHANGE already.
    I’d be very interested to hear you thoughts on new initiatives where people are trying to break with the old model. For example, what’s your feeling on the new true/slant.com?
    I appreciate that it’s more than just another news aggregator, and I do like the idea of the journalists committing to the site. (As a user though, I have not been wowed, maybe I should give it some time…)
    Have you seen anything else out there that excites you as a possible viable model for the future?

    • I’m still not sure what true/sland is/what it wants to be.

    • True/Slant

      “True/Slant is an original content news network tailored to both the “New Journalist” and marketers who want a more effective way to engage with digital audiences. Contributors, consumers and marketers each have a voice on True/Slant.”

  • Ken

    “The man who never looks into a newspaper is better informed than he who reads them; inasmuch as he who knows nothing is nearer to truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods & errors. He who reads nothing will still learn the great facts, and the details are all false.” –Thomas Jefferson, father of the free press. TJ looked down on the press just as some folks now look down on internet journalism. But TJ also believed in democracy.

  • This just highlights how little “real journalists” at “real news agencies” ever understood about their own industry. The fact is they have never been concerned with journalistic integrity. They have however always been concerned with how much money they could make from advertising of varying sorts. The old model is falling down around them and in a very short amount of time the dinosaurs who can’t evolve will all be dead, remembered for nostalgic reasons by other old farts who are just waiting around to die.

    • Bob P.

      Well, you’re conflating “journalists” and the people who run the newspaper industry. They’re not the same. The reporters out gathering information and writing stories are not guiding the ship of their industry. They get paid wages. They don’t make more when the business they work for sells more ads. That’s like saying the mechanics who build engines at GM should have foreseen the problems in the car industry. I don’t think you’re talking about journalists — you’re talking about publishers and executives. I’d venture that journalism isn’t the problem — there have always been journalists, always will be. They have long been needed and disparaged at the same time (see the Jefferson quote above — he also said he’d rather have newspapers than government, for whatever that’s worth). I don’t think the issue here is journalism. It has the same problems it’s always had, and it’s still here. People will always want information about their society. The problem is simply that reporters need to eat — so how do they pay the grocery bill?

      • Andy Freeman

        > Well, you’re conflating “journalists” and the people who run the newspaper industry. They’re not the same. The reporters out gathering information and writing stories are not guiding the ship of their industry. … That’s like saying the mechanics who build engines at GM should have foreseen the problems in the car industry.

        Do you really want to argue that reporters have as little creative contribution as assembly line folk?

        I’m pretty sure that it’s not the biz side that inserts factual errors into stories.

      • Bob P.

        Andy writes: “I’m pretty sure that it’s not the biz side that inserts factual errors into stories.”

        Of course not. I was just asserting that the death of newspapers isn’t simply a statement on the quality of reporting and commentating. Sure, there are always mistakes and distortions and simplifications and all that. Always have been. Always will be. Of course, there are mistakes and distortions and simplifications and all that among bloggers and other kinds of digital media, too. Always will be. This is because the work is being done by human beings. I’m not saying “oh, don’t worry about all those mistakes!” Journalists and writers of any kind should always be worried about these things and should always be trying to do better. Do journalists lose touch sometimes, too? Sure.

        But I still believe that the biggest problem for newspapers is not that people have given up on news. Lots of people want and devour news. The problem for newspapers is that the revenue model has eroded. Adapting to this is not typically the responsibility of a daily newspaper reporter. The managing editor? Well, maybe the managing editor should be trying to do something about this. But mostly it is the responsibility of the publishers and the executives. I’m not saying they have had easy decisions to make. I think they’re in a tough spot. But ultimately, this kind of stuff is their job.

        The dilemma is that changing the print product too much upsets those people who are the very loyal, longtime readers — believe it or not there are many people out there who love that dinosaur known as the newspaper and hate the idea of reading the news online. Really. Newspaper people worry a lot about making these readers, their best customers, unhappy. Of course, papers can follow those people for too long — and follow them right into the grave. Still, they are the bread and butter. So I think a lot of papers are stuck between the past and the future, wondering what to do, standing there like a deer in the proverbial headlights. And, yeah, those headlights might just be Google.

    • OK, Bob’s analogy wasn’t the best – but your hoity-toity look at journalists is worse. When a small-town city council can make decisions with your tax dollars and there’s no new-wave ‘journalist’ interested enough to follow and tell the public what it NEEDS to hear – that will be a very, very sad day indeed, whether you believe that or not.
      And to smear us with the “we make mistakes’ tar-brush is ridiculous, too. We live or die by our fact-gathering, reporting reputation. Our name is on what we do. And as humans, we make mistakes. But most of the reporters I know/have worked with over three decades simply want to tell interesting, thought-provoking stories about issues that matter. Maybe you don’t read/watch the same news I do, or maybe you come to it with a built-in set of biases. (That’s OK, many do.)

      • Andy Freeman

        > When a small-town city council can make decisions with your tax dollars and there’s no new-wave ‘journalist’ interested enough to follow and tell the public what it NEEDS to hear – that will be a very, very sad day indeed, whether you believe that or not.

        The local paper isn’t losing money because it’s too expensive to cover local news. It’s losing money, and readers, because it’s spending to much time on “news” that I can get elsewhere for free.

        Take a copy of your local paper. Throw away the ads. Throw away the wire copy. The pittance that’s left is the local news, the stuff that you can’t get elsewhere. Ask yourself what fraction of their costs went into producing said pittance.

        I think that local papers in small burbs can even make money on truly local ads.

        Publications that deliver that deliver unique, good, and valuable content have a future as long as they don’t waste money on other content.

        Covering the local city council can be unique, good, and valuable.

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  • “You might make the argument that, if every last single Web site charged, then people would have to pay if they wanted to keep up with the news. Wouldn’t they? My answer to that is, no, they wouldn’t. They simply wouldn’t read the news. They’d play Nintendo, or whatever other time-waster presented itself as a work alternative.”

    From my post:

    AP Vs. Google Proves Web No Longer Wants To Be So Free

    • Eric Gauvin

      There’s a huge opportunity to do more than simply try to recreate the concept of newspapers on the internet. There will need to be some major innovation. It would be way too easy to just turn off the presses and turn on the websites. Reading online isn’t the same as reading in print. So far there’s very little reading online, mostly just searching and scanning, which is great and has it’s place (but it’s very tedious). My prediction is that the future of journalism will revolve around how to make it possible to read something online with some satisfaction. Where are the innovators?

      • Andy Freeman

        > My prediction is that the future of journalism will revolve around how to make it possible to read something online with some satisfaction. Where are the innovators?

        Why are you expecting someone else to implement your vision?

      • Eric Gauvin

        @Andy Freeman

        Not my expectation…

        Just an idea (prediction)…

      • Andy Freeman

        “Where are the innovators?” after a prediction is asking someone else to implement that prediction.

        There’s no one who understands your prediction better than you, so why aren’t you doing it?

        As Scoop Nisker says “If You Don’t Like the News– Go Out and Make Some of Your Own”

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  • Missing Something

    All of this complaining about Google links just sounds like more refusal to change. This is the new state of game – like it or not.

    But maybe everyone else sees something other than what I see at Google News or in the search results.

    When I go to Google News or search for “Maersk Alabama,” I get a Google page with their ads which is perfectly fair, after all. When I click through to read the full story from the L.A. Times, I go to the L.A. Times website which has the L.A. Times’ ads on it.

    Am I missing something?

    Or is it just easier to say Google should pay rather than come up with a real business plan to save the News aggregation business that once was known as “newspapers”?

    As has been stated and is obvious, if Google stops linking to these news sites, it would be almost the same as turning those news sites off completely. Where would that leave folks on the internet to get their news from? Drudge? Is that what the newspaper industry wants?

    Listen, I get that we need a way to pay for all of this and I firmly believe that the news aggregation portion of the newspaper business is important but we need to come up with other ways to make it work or actually try some of the suggestions that have been made.

    P.S. – Objectivity, like perfection, is a fine thing to strive for that can never be fully met. The internet did not blur those lines – people’s desire to get news coming from their own point-of-view did. See the popularity of Limbaugh, Rush.

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  • Gretchen Scheiman

    Great post Jeff, very thought provoking. I am concerned about the lack of budget (IF that is true) for true investigative journalism, but I also wonder if, were the budget unlimited, there would be any in-depth investigative reports anyway. The news media as a whole does not do a great job of helping people understand the big stories that are out there already (witness 2004-2008 reporting on Fannie Mae, which was a known issue during that time, or lack of reporting on Oil For Food scandal, or any number of other stories not pursued). How can I possibly believe they’d do any better with hidden stories?

    I do wonder how we can promote better journalism and standards in the current nearly-free-of-cost environment, as last I checked communism didn’t work. What prompts quality and work ethic in new-school journalism?

  • Front Porch Forum accused of hastening the demise of community newspapers: http://tr.im/cnpdecline

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