The future of journalism is not its past

The future of journalism is not its past

: Tim Porter writes his best post ever — Jay Rosen beat me to calling it that — about pathological resistance to change in newsrooms and journalism. It’s probably a good portrait of fear of change in any industry undergoing restructuring, only the situation is even tougher in journalism because it is an industry inflated with hubris as well as true principle — an industry that doesn’t even like to think of itself as an industry.

I’ve spent more than a third of my career trying to bring change to news media and I’ve been amazed hearing the notion that news should not change. Why not? The world is changing. The public and its needs and wants are changing. The technology is changing. The opportunities are changing. The competition is changing. The economics are changing. Why shouldn’t newsrooms change?

As Tim reports, the discussion is usually not about moving forward — and taking advantage of this change, embracing it — but, instead, about wanting to move back: back to when there were more people, there was less competition, the insiders had more power, and we had better bars (well, actually, that last one is mine… but it might help with the bad mood Tim finds):

The amount of anger and hostility, of distrust and suspicion, of inertia and ennui that pollutes the journalistic environment in these newsrooms at first surprised me….

It is a venom whose toxicity, fed by the same sort of outwardly-directed anger and suspicion that floods the waning days of all diminishing industries, weakens all hope these reporters and editors and photographers have of imagining a future in which journalism survives but its form is vastly different….

The obdurance and avoidance endemic in newsrooms rests on a bedrock belief that the “problems” at their newspapers are best solved with more bodies or a return to a more “traditional” form of journalism….

In these same newsrooms where the nattering nabobs of nostalgia pine for days of yore, there are also forward-thinking reporters and editors and photographers who envision and are working to create a journalistic future built on new story forms, deeper community connections and more truth-telling and watch-dogging….

We are in a time of great transition in journalism. The tectonics of technology, demographics, economics and lifestyle are disrupting the ground on which newspaper journalism stood for half a century. Survival requires nimbleness, openness and a sense of the possible. The intransigent and the angry and the incurably nostalgic will fall into the cracks….

There’s much more. Read it all.

  • “…amazed hearing the notion that news should not change”
    That’s funny, too. I’ve been trying to avoid the news this past week, but I can’t get away from the journalistic drumbeat that the Catholic Church must change.
    Everybody who doesn’t agree with journalistic idealism and received wisdom is “stuck in the past” and resistant to change, yet it is in fact pretty evident that it is they who are the most obdurate bunch.
    As far as I can tell, the Catholic Church is more introspective and self-critical than journalism.

  • HmmÖ Very interesting thoughts. What you’ve been describing sounds intriguing, and as a consumer of print news I’d agree.
    Regarding change: once you’ve set up a vertical hierarchical command structure, based of course on position, experience, and seniority, and make everyone new work their way up essentially from the bottom, then by the time someone finally gets to the top of the pyramid theyíve invested so much time and energy in climbing it that they can’t bring themselves to raze it. Those that don’t see the point of endlessly dragging up all the sandstone blocks leave, and those that remain talk about how it would be taller and prettier if they only had more workers. In truth nobody can think of anything more interesting to build than a pyramid, as it’s the only style of architecture that they know, plus they’re each comfortable at manning their familiar positions on the ropes.
    Whether they can reinvent the pyramid seems to remain unknown, but what’s certain is that the new fangled cathedral builders are hiring and that their products can serve more people for less construction effort. On the downside the flashy flying buttresses and vaulting ceilings are worryingly spindly upon closer examination, just like many of the startup websites devoted purely to news.
    I find it interesting that even in 2005 a newspaper looks essentially unchanged from the previous centuries, with color pictures replacing black and white. White space is still almost banned and the blocks of endless text could pretty much have come off a lineotype. There’s a look and feel to them that’s been highly conserved.

  • Lex

    Carsonfire: Introspective the newspaper bidness may not be, but for all its many ingrained flaws, it has never carried on a decades-long continuing criminal enterprise based on sexually molesting children and shielding the perpetrators. “more introspective and self-critical”? In which parallel dimension?

  • Extreme hyperbole. Overstating the problems within the church, terrible though they may be, could be done just as easily with the press.
    For instance, RatherGate was just one example of the press trying to influence elections based on their own prejudices. I could accuse the news media of being a crime syndicate which systematically plots ways of usurping democracy.
    There’s no point in that, though. Better to stay within the realm of reality.
    The Catholic church had a wide-spread problem with bad priests and at one point was advised by “experts” to treat the problem with kid gloves; this blew up in their face, and so they then had to confront the problem in a more direct and public way. They didn’t have any choice but to become introspective, because the issue was clear, public, and wasn’t going to just go away.
    Liberal journalists, pretending to report in an unbiased manner, routinely let their biases guide them. They know that there is a problem, but they refuse to acknowledge that it has anything to do with them. It’s FoxNews or cable or the internet or bloggers. Anything but their own ongoing unethical behavior. This would be comparable to Catholics blaming priestly pedophilia on Muslims or Buddhists.
    So, yes, I’d say the Catholic church is more introspective than the news media. Only in the parallel universe of hyperbole and exaggeration can it be said to be the reverse.