Look Forward, Not Back, Part II

I think I’m going to start a regular series of posts with the above title…

Today’s subhede:
The Death of (print) Newspapers Does Not Equal the Death of Journalism.”

The latest sky is falling scenario will come via NPR’s Morning Edition tommorow. Here’s a preview of the piece:

VANISHING NEWSPAPER: In some significant American city, somewhere soon, a trusted metro newspaper will simply go belly-up, experts say, probably due to some combination of declining advertising revenues, eroding paid circulation, and an owner’s bankruptcy. We take a look at Hartford, Connecticut, home to the Courant – the nation’s oldest continuously published newspaper. It has a distinguished record of watchdog and enterprise journalism but has been suffering from severe budget cuts. And yet there’s plenty to cover. Hartford is a troubled city, but it’s also the state capital, a major center for the insurance agency – and coverage there has been abandoned by other major news outlets in the region, such as the New York Times and the Boston Globe. We try to envision what would happen if the Courant, owned by the bankrupt Tribune company, were to disappear. The loss for the city, the region and the state would be tremendous.

Now, there is no doubt that this year will be a huge year of transition for the business of newspapers. And, we should not forget that when we see these huge numbers associated with newspaper layoffs that real people are involved. Often times analysis of the state of the business can come off as callous, but there are people involved.

But, as I’ve said now in a number of different blog posts and public forms, the death of newspapers this year does not equal the death of journalism. Quality journalism will continue to be delivered, it just won’t be in the printed form. New business models will emerge (many are already in the experimentation stage), you just won’t be paying a yearly subscription or 50 cents at the newsstand.

There is much being written about the state of journalism and its future. Bill Keller of the New York Times recently did an extensive Q&A on the state of the NYT and the profession in general. At one point, he says:

There is no end of faith-based polemics on the subject of newspapers’ survival. Print is dead! Online readers must pay for content! Online readers will never pay for content! Give newspapers endowments, like universities! We should be a little suspicious of ironclad certainty.

Fair enough.

But what I would tell Keller and others making arguments for the old business model of journalism is that editors and publishers sat idly by for more than 13 years, content to let those “web guys” do their thing but declining to really examine the many different business opportunities. Now, the experimentation is happening, but much of it is coming from outside the big media companies.

We — journalists, educators, editors, publishers — need to look to the future. This will be a difficult, gut-wrenching year, but something new is being born in the process.

Steve Outing is one of those looking to the future in his outline of the new All-Digital Newsroom, where he says in part:

What will it take to get one of the remaining jobs in the all-digital newsroom? Certainly an understanding of, and probably enthusiasm for, new forms of media and storytelling. The transformed newsroom will be filled with multi-functional journalists who are comfortable carrying around a digital camera and tiny video camera; who make it part of their routine to record audio for possible use in podcasts or multimedia project sound clips; who are regular users of social networks and understand how to leverage them to communicate with and attract new readers, and share some personal information about themselves as well as promote their work; and who are comfortable and willing to put in the time to engage and communicate with their readers or viewers, including participating in reader comment threads accompanying their stories.

While in this transformed news enterprise reporters will take some of their own photos and video, I think there will remain a place for photojournalists — but they’ll need to be adept at video and not just still news photography. They’ll need to know how to do video editing and production, and produce multimedia content.

Journalists clinging to notions of narrow job descriptions and who still hold dear many of the old ways of doing things for print are unlikely to be among those offered jobs in the downsized digital newsroom. To win one of these jobs, extreme flexibility and the love of learning and a challenge will be qualities that hiring managers will seek. I suspect that may make this digital newsroom younger than today’s print newsrooms, yet I know plenty of older journalists who revel in the media transformation and 24/7 nature of today’s news, and young journalists just out of college who still think conservatively. So don’t count out seeing some gray hair in the digital newsroom, though not as much.

As my old boss used to say, Onward!


About journalismprof

Steve joined the journalism faculty at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in August 2007 and has been working to incorporate multimedia across the curriculum. Since arriving at UMass, Steve has developed three courses modeled after his multimedia journalism course. The courses allow students to work in teams in a newsroom-like environment where they work on packages -- using video, audio and photos to tell stories. He is also working with students on developing amherstwire.com, a news Web site staffed completely by students. Steve has more than 25 years of experience as an editor and reporter for print and online publications, including 10 as an editor at washingtonpost.com. He also edits part-time for espn.com with the NFL and college football network.
This entry was posted in Business of Journalism, Future of Journalism, innovation, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Look Forward, Not Back, Part II

  1. Christina Fong says:

    Being one of those “who still hold dear to many of the old way of doing things for print”, I really do hope print makes a up comeback somewhere along the way. But I’m beginning to open myself up to the possibilities of an all-digital newsroom because I do believe that journalism will not die with print media. The internet is so accessible to readers and writers alike that online content will never die (at least not in the near future) and because it’s the internet, there will always be ways to get the news cheap or even better (and most likely), free.

  2. Lucas says:

    The transition from print to online content is fast approaching, and already in the process. If print goes out of business, or just out of style, it absolutely is not the end of good journalism.

    The basic standards and ethics we all hold still need to apply, and there’s no reason a change of medium should affect our basic principles.

    If anything, we’ll need to be more careful, because more people across the globe have access to our work than ever before. We should be under more pressure to get facts straight, properly represent sources, and continue with many basic journalistic elements.

    Lastly, as this post stresses, a journalist of this day and age simply can’t keep a career going without knowledge of convergence, from good writing, to photography, to audio and video.

    Good journalism is still in demand, and communication is quicker than ever before. Learning these skills, along with the basic principles that legitimize our field, will ensure the best possibilities for our future.

  3. amontalb says:

    I think that the transition from print to online journalism is definitely coming and that we as journalists should begin to focus more on the future of multimedia journalism, but I don’t think newspapers are down and out just yet. I still see many people, including many of my family members sit down with a newspaper daily.

    But, regardless of the people who still read print, the transition is still coming and it is coming rapidly. I think that we as students should take advantage of all the classes that are offered during our college years to learn the different aspects of multimedia (Video, audio, etc.) By taking advantage of all the opportunities offered to us now, it will prepare us better for when we graduate and step into the “real world”.

    The only hope that I have is that although there is a change coming, that the basic elements of journalism remain the same. Articles, whether in print or online, should be carefully written and the facts should be carefully checked. If the basic elements of journalism remain the same throughout the transition, I think the state of journalism should be okay.

  4. The death of the newspaper does not mean the death of journalism. Those who believe in the practice and are willing to deliver quality news will do so. Money seems to be a large part of the issue. As sited, one problem is about making money. People want news – especially online news – for free. Money needs to come from a stable and unbiased source if possible. Keller’s exaggeration is half right. To keep journalists on board, they need to be paid fairly for what they are worth. They need to make a living too. Another problem I see, for the journalists, is that competition is rising. It is good to see experienced and new journalists in news rooms. But, if there are fewer journalists, in an extreme case, it’s not a good thing. In time, however, journalists will get over this hump, and every journalist in the news room will be fully acquainted with multimedia.

  5. Carol says:

    Being optimistic about the future of journalism is especially important in order to make it work. We have to admit that yes, print newspapers are declining more rapidly than one would like to believe. Certain regions are receiving less and less coverage. To fill that gap, journalists, young and old, have to adapt to the growing popularity of online & multimedia news outlets.

    I do agree with Bill Keller when he says that no one will pay for online news content. At least, that’s how I see it. It’s easier for me to “Google News” a certain issue than subscribe to an online paper. There will always be some other, albeit less reliable, FREE news source online that readers will flock to. (Bloggers can be biased and not well informed.)

    So, in order to keep unbiased, reliable news sources the first choice of online readers, there has to be something worked out by news organizations that currently rely on print.

  6. Michael says:

    I have to say that I agree with this post. Since becoming a journalism major, besides working on my writing and reporting skills, I was told that if I ever wanted to find a job I would need to know how to use various multimedia tools. Journalism is transitioning and if you don’t have the skills for what it takes, then you are going to be left behind in the dark.

    Typical newspaper jobs are few and far between, and hard to get. Not only are there not that many, but they are vanishing.

    I think the one of the most interesting things about being a journalism major is learning all the various multimedia tools. If you think liberally and learn new skills, it can open many doors for you. The multimedia skills can help you get a job in many areas, that way you aren’t just limited to print.

    Everybody should definitely try to learn something new.

  7. Keith says:

    The digital age of journalism transcends the traditional newsroom. Many news sites, especially at the hyper-local level, get their content via freelance or citizen journalists. This actually creates more opportunities for both established journalists and those of us either in school or recently out of school to get published. The future of journalism has its roots in the past – fairness, accuracy and ethics must all be practiced – but more voices can and should lead to better content. Think of it as entrepreneurial journalism. We must all market ourselves and promote our voices and any technical expertise we have. I do not want to see print die, but its slow demise has opened the world of journalism up to people who might not have found a home in the newsroom of old.

  8. Ted Rogers says:

    I’m not even sure we’ll see the death of printed media. I recently read something that the late Michael Crichton wrote in ’93, about the far off future of 2008. The thing he started off by saying was that newspapers would be gone forever, replaced by webpages specifically geared to a single subject. Today, we have both coexisting.

    My point is that we can’t necessarily predict the future of journalism simply by monitoring its present trends. Maybe it would be for the best to prepare for new methods of journalism, but not depend on the death of print journalism as a result. The industry will change, to be sure, but it seems a little too early to write it off as history.

    The essay I was talking about is a pretty good read, even if some of its predictions are out there. It can be found at: http://crichton-official.com/speech-mediasaurus.html

  9. emilygrund says:

    Most newspapers have already transitioned to multimedia. At this point they’re just trying to perfect it and make money. Only time will tell if all these new websites with free content will fail or succeed. The problem now I think is students going into the journalism major. You’re no longer signing up for learning how to report and tell a story efficiently and ethically, you’re also learning all kinds of skills that many schools have their own major dedicated to: photography, graphic design, videography, computer science. It can sometimes feel incredibly overwhelming.

    The disheartening part is that it’s not really about working with other people in the newsroom anymore. It’s about being self-sufficient and doing everything on your own. I still believe that people should use their strengths to their best advantage in order to get quality work and combine it with other people’s skills to make a story a success. This apparently is not the direction journalism is taking however.

  10. kkoczwara says:

    The death of print is sad, yes. Someday it may be saved (maybe if the internet crashes). Spending time without the internet is a great pleasure of mine, it is wonderful to hold the paper in your hands, not be continually stimulated and read proper English being used.

    But for now and the future, we need to adapt (something humans have been doing since they first walked on the planet) and dream of bigger things. Fighting the inevitable is fighting against time, and no one can outrun father time.

    The sad thing is that when we all converge we do lose job opportunities. Their aren’t specific positions anymore and life becomes centralized, and everyone carries a silly gadget that gives them all the information they need. No one no longer needs to seek out information, or want it, or want interaction with another human being.

    Working with high school students the last few years (substitute teaching over breaks) has made me realize that yes we need to adapt to the internet and move forward but is all this social networking and at your fingertips information hat great for society as a whole? A lot of these students can’t write a bare bone sentence. They can write in jargon text language, but is that really communicating? No one writes letters anymore, you cannot see the handwriting of the one you are communicating with, and the shakes and trembles of their fingers a they explain what is happening in their lives. It is now just a planet of faceless, emotionless people behind screens.

    And the information people are seeking may not be the most important to the evolution of our society. Pop-culture has run rampant on the internet, hording most of the readership, especially younger readership. That is not good for our future.

    To move forward we must educate ourselves int he multimedia formats to allow our readership and future readership to be entertained. I pray we can do it. But if we can’t, I don’t want to see the future.

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