Another whither journalism conference

Another whither journalism conference

: I’m at Harvard (again) for (another) conference on the future of journalism and there’s fear in the air about the future. I read the group Fred Wilson’s post about the revolution of the ants; there’s excitement in the air outside.

I won’t blog this whole thing; there’s been enough blog posts on enough journalism and blogging conferences. But there are provocative lines and quotes flying past and I’ll grab a few out of the air here:

: Len Apcar, editor in chief of, said he is “ecstatic we bought because it says the New York Times is not a newspaper company.” That’s provocative and it’s right. The New York Times is a news company, an advertising company, an audience company, a company in need of diversifying its ad base and in need of new sources of growth; it is and must be more than paper.

Before it was done, I poked fun at the deals that were rumored as old-media marketplaces trying to buy a new-media marketplace in a time when marketplaces will be replaced by distributed media. But hearing more from Martin Nisenholtz and from Apcar, it’s apparent that they see this is a platform for getting the cost-per-click advertising that’s now going to Google, for getting expertise in search-engine marketing, for diversification into distributed media, and for growth with speed.

More than one person in this room saw the and the Dow Jones/Marketplace deals as very important for the future of old media (though Len also said that Marketplace was necessary to Dow Jones because its pay model is a “failed model”).

: Jay Rosen tells how journalism fellows who spend a year learning from at Harvard’s Nieman, where we’re sitting, go back to their newsrooms and have no opportunity to share their learning. “The profession doesn’t value intellectual capital,” he says. “It doesn’t really value learning.” He says that journalism is a “knowledge profession that’s having huge difficulty updating its own knowledge… and that’s part of the reason its in so much trouble.” At a Microsoft, he says, learning is valued and the culture expects its knowledge and assumptions to be outdated every five years; journalism has not gone through such a change in 45 years.

: Merrill Brown ads that “the state of journalism training has never been worse.”

: Jay says that journalism protected itself by separating itself — “a separation theory of professional integrity”: It separated itself from business realities (church v. state) and political reality and the public. That separation is at the root of its problems today, for it must instead find a way to make connections.

: Rosen on the tools we have enabling citizens’ media: “We now have the ability to create self-informing publics.” Without middlemen, in other words; without marketplaces.

: Rosen also wants to see just one reporter in one newsroom work on open-source journalism — on distributed reporting — using the audience to not just contribute quotes to TV or stories but to contribute reporting.

: The assumption in the business and its culture and at events like this is that media won’t die: TV didn’t replace radio and all that. But here I am hearing people in old media say that some forms may not survive as media spectrum — broadly interpreted as paper, broadcast, online — is re-mined and reallocated. One editor said he thought that newspapers and broadcast would not survive. Another attendee agreed with the notion that some local old-media outlet could sink with the blame going to online competitors. I don’t know; we’ll certainly see.

: David Weinberger said a key missing element in media has been ownership. When he looks at Wikipedia — even if he doesn’t contribute to it — he feels an ownership: It’s ours. That sense of ownership will be crucial to reestablishing trust in media.

: Dan Froomkin of is filled with thought arrows, for instance: “Yahoo won the breaking-news-aggregatoin battle before we even knew there was one.” He says the news outsiders (Yahoo, Google, et al) could do the same with hyperlocal.

  • Tom

    “Dan Froomkin of is filled with thought arrows, for instance: “Yahoo won the breaking-news-aggregating battle before we even knew there was one.” He says the news outsiders (Yahoo, Google, et al) could do the same with hyperlocal.”
    Isn’t that statement ironic? The meme running around the blogoshere is that old new thinks ” it is not news till we say it is.”
    Now, you have a representative from a major paper saying we did know we had a competitor till they ate our lunch. I get the feeling that the newsroom impression was they can’t do that, we have not reported it yet.

  • Derek

    Good point, Tom. The news media believes it’s own PR—“it isn’t news till we report it”—but the real question has become: is it news if no one is listening?
    MSM, like the Pilgrim in Bunyan, has come to a place where straight way is lost. It started when journalism, esp. broadcast which began replacing newspapers as soon as it came into existence, became entertainment. The difference today, and what no one in MSM saw coming, was an alternative medium with broad access AND personal (as opposed to large capital) ownership: the internets, in other words.
    The fact is, Blogs are better at analyzing news, correcting errors in real time (read, while it matters, not correcting it a month later on page B-22)and providing feedback and discussion. It fills the void that MSM created by turning news into entertainment.
    The prohibitive cost of distribution and broadcast turned journalism (always a trade) into a pseudo-profession, with all of the exclusivity of any profession. The internet means anyone with a brain and an internet connection can play ball now—and the MSM is howling about it like any other conservative (semi) professional institution would.

  • J. Peden

    “Merrill Brown ads that ‘the state of journalism training has never been worse.'”
    Failing right at potty training, but having discarded diapers.

  • The Canadian equivalent of a Nieman is a Southam Fellowship. One sometimes hears stories about journalists being thrown onto the night police beat when they came back to the newsroom to get them in the groove again.
    When I worked for the new media arm of a newspaper company, for managers with high-tech backgrounds, I got more professional development in two years than I did in my previous 14 in newspapers.
    Rosen is right when he says the news industry doesn’t value intellectual capital.

  • beasley

    News koan: If “Yahoo, Google, et al” wins the hyperlocal aggregator battle and puts the hyperlocal news-gathering operation out of business, what’s left to aggregate?