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Will journalism survive? In what form?

July 23, 2017

Tags: journalism, digital journalism, future of news

by Pat McNees (updated 2-1-19, orig. published 10-2-15)
The days of "the internet wants to be free" are ending. As the advertising-pays-for-print-journalism model stops working, will the blog-for-free-because-it-will-give-you-exposure-and-a-platform model replace it in the name of "citizen journalism"? What are the alternatives? Here are links to some of the debates and articles circulating on this topic -- most recent at the top:
Does Journalism Have a Future? (Jill Lepore, New Yorker, 1-28-19) The more desperately the press chases readers, the more it resembles our politics. In an era of social media and fake news, journalists who have survived the print plunge have new foes to face. "Even as news organizations were pruning reporters and editors, Facebook was pruning its users’ news, with the commercially appealing but ethically indefensible idea that people should see only the news they want to see....Every time Facebook News tweaks its algorithm—tweaks made for commercial, not editorial, reasons—news organizations drown in the undertow....BuzzFeed surpassed the Times Web site in reader traffic in 2013. BuzzFeed News is subsidized by BuzzFeed, which, like many Web sites—including, at this point, those of most major news organizations—makes money by way of “native advertising,” ads that look like articles. In some publications, these fake stories are easy to spot; in others, they’re not. At BuzzFeed, they’re in the same font as every other story....
"The Times remains unrivalled. It staffs bureaus all over the globe and sends reporters to some of the world’s most dangerous places. It has more than a dozen reporters in China alone. Nevertheless, BuzzFeed News became more like the Times, and the Times became more like BuzzFeed, because readers, as Chartbeat announced on its endlessly flickering dashboards, wanted lists, and luxury porn, and people to hate."
"The broader problem is that the depravity, mendacity, vulgarity, and menace of the Trump Administration have put a lot of people, including reporters and editors, off their stride."
BBC & The New York Times — where the R&Ds meet the news (Global Editors Network, 1-31-19) "Some things obvious to newsrooms today, were most probably thought of by a Research & Development team before becoming norm. Though some R&D teams have been around for years, others are just now starting to develop interesting projects. Whether focusing on AI and machine learning, blockchain, or smart speakers and voice devices, the R&Ds are aiming to help advise newsrooms on what’s next; identifying where technology and news, unitedly, can fuel what will drive the media industry forward...."In a media landscape where twists and turns are common, the Research &
Development teams don't only have to help in the now, but also predict the
future. So where do they get their ideas from, how do they interact and
implement their solutions, and in what direction do they see news and
technology to be headed next?"
Newsonomics: Tronc’s selling, and buying, and just generally shapeshifting (Ken Doctor, Nieman Lab, 5-31-18) Patrick Soon-Shiong, the one-time Tronc vice chairman, finally close on his nearly $600 million buy of the Los Angeles Times and San Diego Union-Tribune. For a company that’s known little but chaos in its short life, the degree of uncertainty is now as high as ever. Just about the only thing we know: Tronc execs will come out well in the end. Could the Los Angeles Times come out a better paper?
Mort Rosenblum Laments AP (Aileen, AdWeek 2-20-06) Suggestions for preserving AP's virtues from a man who worked for AP for decades. A good inside-the-biz story.
Newsonomics: “Everything I believe about the news business is being violated” at The Denver Post (Ken Doctor, Nieman Lab, 5-7-18) "The Post has been totally gutted of news coverage and of editorial coverage. That's a fact."— former Denver Post owner Dean Singleton. Meanwhile, the current owners plan still another round of cuts, under hedge fund control — and consider killing editorial pages entirely.
The Hard Truth at Newspapers Across America: Hedge Funds Are in Charge (Gerry Smith, Bloomberg, 5-22-18) Coast to coast, financial firms are playing a bigger role at local papers struggling to adapt in digital age. Investors like Alden Global Capital LLC and Fortress Investment Group LLC have acquired ownership stakes in newspapers that have struggled to adapt in an online world, from the Denver Post to the Providence Journal. Funds have brought their cost-cutting know-how to help restructure several newspaper chains in heavy debt after the 2008 financial crisis. “They’re not reinvesting in the business,” Ken Doctor, a longtime newspaper analyst and president of the website Newsonomics, said about Alden Global. “It’s dying and they are going to make every dollar they can on the way down.” A hedge fund's news formula: Cut well-paid but unproductive reporters and ask the rest to write more.
The Denver Post’s rebellion and ‘a crisis in American journalism’ (Pete Vernon, CJR, 4-9-18)
The American experiment was built on a government-supported press (Will Meyer, CJR, 5-7-18) The advertising business model for journalism only gained traction 150 years ago. From the 1790s onward, news publications received a postal subsidy that slashed as much as 90 percent off postage fees. (It was met with resistance in the South; slaveholders loathed it.) Today, the United States trails far behind many of its industrialized counterparts in supporting the press.
What Could Blockchain Do for Journalism? (Nicky Woolf, Medium, 2-13-18) For an industry under siege, a potential solution to account for “billionaire” shutdowns and funding challenges. 'An ecosystem of micropayments, in which everyone pays fractions of a penny for every article they read, has long been thought of as the holy grail for online journalism, the theoretical future solution. But there has never been a way to process payments like that in reality — until now. “Blockchain technology can create both chains of authenticity and a level of security,” Emily Bell, director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University, tells me....On top of that, she says, cryptocurrencies offer an opportunity for “marketplaces which bring journalists and interested communities together to fund work.”'
Blockchain Will Be Theirs, Russian Spy Boasted at Conference (Nathaniel Popper, Technology, NY Times, 4-29-18) 'Another delegate who had a separate conversation with the head of the Russian group remembers a slightly different wording: “The internet belonged to America. The blockchain will belong to the Russians.”'

Industry Insight: How a New Breed of Billionaire Owners is Shaping the Newspaper Business (Matt DeRienzo, Editor & Publisher. 4-17-18) Certain points are highlighted in this review of Dan Kennedy's book The Return of the Moguls: How Jeff Bezos and John Henry Are Remaking Newspapers for the Twenty-First Century. Basically: "Hoping a random billionaire buys your local newspaper and makes everything great again is probably not a solid plan for saving journalism in most of America. But examples of just that in Boston and Washington, D.C., are providing room for experimentation." Kennedy's book "explores turnarounds at the Washington Post and Boston Globe, failed attempts elsewhere, and the overall limits and pitfalls of the 'billionaire savior' model....Instead of a Jeff Bezos, you could end up with a Sam Zell, whose leadership of Tribune newspapers was disastrous, or a Warren Buffett, who has taken a hands-off, wind-down-the-business approach similar to the most-criticized corporate newspaper chains."

Journalism’s New Patrons: Newspapers deepen embrace of philanthropy (David Westphal, CJR, 2-8-18) On January 30, the Charleston Gazette-Mail staff learned it would receive philanthropic support for two news-side reporters in 2018. The money, from Report for America and ProPublica, will cover about 15 percent of the Gazette-Mail’s news reporting salaries (excluding features and sports reporters). And it becomes the latest example of how philanthropy is becoming an ever-larger part of the revenue streams of newspapers and other for-profit news companies. The West Virginia paper is one of seven news organizations being subsidized by ProPublica to intensify investigative reporting over the next year. Separately, it’s one of three participants in a Report for America pilot program that will shine a spotlight on life in Appalachia.
Bikini slideshows and other click bait: Do paywalls usher in better content? (Mollie Bryant, Big If True, 2-1-18) An interesting discussion of online ads, paywalls, clickbait, slideshows of bikini contests, and other approaches to declining revenue for journalism. "Wired’s new subscription package is a helluva deal. For $20, readers get a year’s worth of the magazine’s print and digital products, including online access. To sweeten the deal, the package offers a rarity in online subscriptions – no website ads. That means no standalone ads thrust in your face like a jack-in-the-box while you’re mid-sentence. What a concept!" But it’s not going to save print journalism.
Learning from the New Yorker, Wired’s new paywall aims to build a more “stable financial future” (Ricardo Bilton, Nieman Lab, 2-1-18) “People who have studied the information age at this point recognize that there were a bunch of problems and side effects to the fact that people weren’t asked to pay for content in the early years of the internet.” "Wired’s brand and mission may align it closely with the koan of the internet revolution that “information wants to be free,” but the days of unlimited free content at Wired.com are coming to an end." Wired editor-in-chief Nick Thompson, who joined the magazine last January after seven years as editor of NewYorker.com, said that developing a Wired paywall topped his agenda from the earliest stages of taking on the job because “it is my strong sense that paywalls are an essential part of the future of journalism.
Paywalls make content better, Wired editor Nick Thompson says (Eric Johnson, Recode, 2-1-18) Wired’s wall goes up today: Four free clicks, then $20 a year.
The Problem With Journalism Is You Need an Audience (Hamilton Nolan, Gawker (more…)