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Where are the news industry’s good ideas?

November 27, 2009

When Light Bulbs Die

Credit: Krug6’s Flickr page

As much as I consider myself a journalist, I also consider myself a part of a greater social media sphere. I suppose if you want to get into it, I’d group myself in several spheres: Journalism. Tech. Seattle. Community News. Blogging. (etc.) Take away the journalism aspect and I’m still very much involved in media and information sharing—which, I’d argue, is basically journalism anyway.

The news industry at large, it often seems, doesn’t exactly operate the same way and it’s a little disheartening. Not because it doesn’t operate the same way I do, but because it almost seems to want to remove itself from whatever community tries to embrace it. Comment boards? Those are for the riff-raff. Citizen journalism? Put it in quotes.

Mind you, I know not all news organizations operate this way and in fact a great deal of news organizations are at the cutting edge of technology and media, but there still seems to be a general perception that the news industry is old, rickety and bereft of new ideas. Let’s consider some of the more frequent journalism industry-meets-tech stories:

  • Old Media baron looks for a way to bring back the good ol’ days
  • Journalist tries out social media; awkwardness ensues
  • Old journalism columnist: “Social media/Twitter/blogging isn’t journalism!”

I understand we’re in a business model crisis, but hell, who isn’t these days? Ours is the only industry that’s legitimately trying to take itself back in time. And while that doesn’t encompass all of us, the perception it creates hurt all of us. Like it or not, people lump things together and just as voters lumped Republicans under the George W. Bush umbrella in 2008, news consumers are lumping news orgs under the Rupert Murdoch/no new ideas umbrella.

The solution, however, is pretty easy: Disassociate oneself by not being a news org (or at least not looking like one). There are a couple ways of doing this. The first is to dispense with the Old Print pleaseantries—ditch the “newspaper layout” look on your home page, stop writing in third person/inverted pyramid style, throw out deadlines and adopt a Web-first mentality and generally just behave like people on the Internet. The other is to find something popular and profitable—journalism or otherwise—and use that to prop up whatever it is you want to call your news operation.

The point is, sitting around whining about how a neighborhood blog isn’t journalism isn’t going to get everyone in the neighborhood to abandon that blog and visit your site instead. So maybe what you need are a few new ideas—and maybe an identity makeover. Who cares what you’re called—a blog, a Web site, a public forum—so long as people are getting their news from you? Who cares what that news looks like, so long as it’s informative and truthful? We’ll be much more able to create and embrace new ideas if we stop boxing ourselves into these archaic sets of rules left over from an almost-dead form of media.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. November 30, 2009 4:16 pm

    Just found yr site today, Paul, via Adam Westbrook / Zi8-related posts. Great to find it, and I like what I’m seeing.

    I think you are right in this post, but I’m reminded of the music industry that ALSO tried to turn back the clocks when faced with a confluence of new technologies and consumption methods. The old model was what industry insiders were used to and it had been profitable for years. However, times change and the industry basically had to follow the new iTunes / iPod / Zune model to survive, and now it seems to be improving a bit, financially.

    All that to say, perhaps we are still waiting for some technological elements to fall into place (say, smarter smartphones or greater broadband access) before any one organization can simply adopt some newer models and show the rest of the journo industry how it is done, now.

    Either way, I am also in favour of supporting the journalists who are trying to find a new voice and distribution model with the new tools. It feels like there are a lot of us these days, but I’m hopeful that strong work will survive and flourish.

    Take care.

  2. November 30, 2009 6:19 pm

    Scott – Glad you like the blog, and thanks for stopping by.

    I’ve argued against the music industry analogy in the past simply because there’s a huge difference between news and music: I can get value out of a song for years, even decades, after I’ve purchased it, whereas news loses its value almost as soon as I have it. However, you’re entirely right that “some technological elements” could “fall into place” and change the game entirely.

    In the meantime, I’m with you on “supporting journalists who are trying to find a new voice and distribution model with the new tools”—I just wish there were more of those journalists around.

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