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New Media and the Future of Journalism

Topic Overview: If this topic were assigned its own week, the readings would focus on the question surrounding the future of journalism and the reality that this may be one of the most pressing problems this country faces. The media landscape is changing dramatically; we see shifts in terms of how people access information, how information is produced and reported, and how it is distributed. Some observers point to the rapid decline in readers of the print-based news and the lack of quality TV journalism as evidence that the commercial media is dying. Many look to emerging and growing numbers of nonprofit organizations focused on investigative reporting, hyper-local blogging, and the use of citizen journalism and see a new golden era. The current discussion on the future of journalism extends beyond debating what the substance and funding of journalism should entail and also includes a discussion about what it will take to make the transition.

“How to Save Journalism” by John Nichols and Robert W. McChesney

In addressing potential solutions to the journalism crisis, McChesney and Nichols argue that in order to have an educated and informed public, we must firmly advocate for a functioning and independent press. They advocate the importance of advocating journalism subsidies and increasing support for public media, and they show that these efforts do not lead to censorship or threaten private and commercial media and that this country actually has a strong history in supporting these kinds of efforts.

The two also discuss more potential solutions to the crisis of journalism, including potential tax vouchers for independent and community oriented media, an AmeriCorps type program which would put thousands of young people to work, perhaps as journalists on start-up digital “publications” covering underserved communities nationwide, and the LC3 model (LC3 stands for low-profit limited liability model – a sort of hybrid for profit and non-profit model for newspapers). Shifting newspapers away from a high-profit commercially driven structure to low-profit or nonprofit ownership would potentially allow them to keep publishing as they complete the transit from old media to new.

The two don’t undermine the importance of digital technologies and do believe that the digital revolution “has the capacity to radically democratize and improve journalism”, but they do advocate for paid staff that interact with and provide material for the blogosphere, and argue for the continued professionalization of the press. The overarching theme of the book and this article is that the journalism crisis is solvable; there are solutions and they have mapped out a clear road of what it takes to get us there. McChesney and Nichols have turned their ideas into a book called “The Death and Life of American Journalism: The Media Revolution that Will Begin the World Again” which was published in early 2010, where they discuss this issues more in-depth.

“Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable” by Clay Shirky

Shirky’s piece, written in March of 2009 discusses the nature of changes happening to society, newspapers and journalism. He argues that society doesn’t need newspapers, but it needs journalism. In that way, the crisis is more than just about the demise of newspapers or magazines etc, it’s more about the institution of journalism itself. He really argues to say that nothing will necessarily save old media, it’s dying and its business model is failing and nothing (pay walls etc) will “save it”.

His underlying point is that because basis for the conventional newspaper model has gone away, we need to experiment a lot more in order to understand what is going to replace it.
Shirky also explains that print media does a very important job, or as he calls it, “society’s heavy journalistic lifting” and that this kind of coverage creates benefits even for people who aren’t newspaper readers (mostly because the work of print journalists is used by everyone from politicians to district attorneys to talk radio hosts to bloggers). And while he may not have the answer as to who or what is going to replace it, he also points out like McChesney and Nichols that journalism has a long history of being subsidized.

This may not be so surprising to many people who have studied what is going on with respect to journalism, but in this piece Shirky articulates the crisis and what may come next very well, and puts the entire debate into some historical context. He concludes by arguing that we need to shift our attention away from “saving newspapers” into “saving society” and that by doing so, the imperative will change from preserving institutions that no longer are viable into doing whatever it takes to make sure journalism will survive.

“Saving the News: Towards a National Journalism Strategy”

This report, which can be downloaded in its entirety from http://www.freepress.net/media_issues/journalism is written by Victor Pickard, Josh Stearns and Craig Aaron, for the national media reform organization Free Press. In it, the authors lay out several ideas for saving the news, and address the crisis from a policy standpoint. The ideas include:

- nonprofit, low-profit and cooperative models
- community and municipal models for future journalism
- foundation and endowment support
- public and government models
- news commercial models
- public subsidies and policy intervention

In this paper they also discuss several short-term and long-term strategies that are necessary to move towards a national journalism strategy. Some of the short-term strategies include new ownership structures, incentives for divestiture, and a journalism jobs program. Longer-term strategies include research and development for journalistic innovation and exploring options for new public media.

It also includes several figures which detail the decline in newsroom employment by year (there’s a huge drop for 57,000 in 2007 to 46,700 in 2009; the 2009 figure is the lowest in history). They also illustrate the percent decline in daily and Sunday Newspaper circulations (it’s like a walking down a steep cliff) and the numbers of US Daily Newspapers.

“Old and New Media Go to Washington”, On the Media, hosted by Brooke Gladstone

In this piece from May 2009, Gladstone discusses recent hearings that a Senate committee held on the Future of Journalism, which illustrates that this issue has received national attention. John Kerry (who is the Committee Chariman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation which held the hearing says that the purpose of the hearing was to examine and figure out from people in the field where new media is going and what to do to help existing media), Jim Moroney publisher of The Dallas Morning News, and Senator Ben Cardin (D-Maryland), who introduced the Newspaper Revitalization Act, and Arianna Huffington.

There are several issues mention in this piece that are of importance to the debate around journalism, including whether it’s possible and/or realistic to monetize online content (for example the now defunct New York Times “Times Select” option), the idea of the Kindle and other electronic readers as the “solution” that publisher’s should be going for (but really that’s not actually viable because of the split revenues they come down somewhere on the in of Amazon receiving 70%and publishers receiving 30%). There is relevance from that debate to the iPad as well, even though the iPad hadn’t been invented yet! The piece also discusses the emergence of new non-profit investigative journalism websites, like Voices of San Diego, which Huffington argues is having real impact investigative journalism.

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