My response to the Project for Excellence in Journalism’s study that found most original reporting in Baltimore still comes from major media:
We need a study to determine this? Well, maybe we do. I think it is worthwhile to have a baseline to compare where news goes in years to come. When I argued the need for an audit of news today with a Google News creator, he wondered why today’s news should be the starting point. My response: Only because that is where the conversation is, as in: “What are we going to lose?” So fine, let’s measure the value of what exists today and look at the resources that go into producing it (including the waste on repetition and commodification). So fine.
But I think the study also brings some dangers.
First, predictably, it only fuels the defensive passion of old media nya-nyaing the news, witness the NY Times: “But the study offered support for the argument often made by the traditional media that, so far, most of what digital news outlets offer is repetition and commentary, not new information.”
Second, it defines news as news has been defined. We should be rethinking our definition of what is news — for many people, it’s not stories about juvenile justice, one of Pew’s subjects — and how it should be covered — not necessarily in articles — and how it is spread — that is the role of blogs and twitter — and not be stuck in old measurements.
Third, it sets up a strawman and then lights the match: Do blogs give us most of our news? No, they don’t. Well, then, they must be worthless, eh? We’ll be lost without big, old media, won’t we? Just what we need. (Though to the study’s immense credit, it also notes how much of local news is repetitive and does not include original reporting.) “This study does suggest that if newspapers were to disappear, what would be left to aggregate?” Tom Rosenstiel, director of the PEJ, told the AP. There’s the strawman: Without papers, we’ll be without news. No, we at CUNY believe the market will deliver it more efficiently and perhaps — perhaps — more effectively. It may not be news as those papers defined it.
We must keep mind that we are at the dawn, the very dawn of the new news ecosystem. There is no scalable business model in place — though, in our studies at the New Business Models for News Project at CUNY, we see them on the horizon and we see new companies starting to build it. When the Associated Press called me about this study on Friday, I said I knew of four dozen reporters in New Jersey who have left their jobs at newspapers and are dying to continue reporting in entrepreneurial startups and are waiting for the kind of help we envisioned in our project. Companies such as Impremedia and The New York Times are just beginning to consider their relationships with the ecosystem.
We are also just beginning to see experimentation with the form of news, moving past the articles the study measures. News is becoming more of a process than a product; it is being disseminated in new ways thanks to search and social and algorithmic links. News is changing.
So I’m fine to look at the PEJ as a historical artifact, a touchpoint for future discussion. But, for God’s sake, don’t consider it a write-off of that future.