One reason I have been writing less these past few weeks on First Draft - aside from the temporal summer slump and yet another plunge into Mexican real estate - is that I have run out of patience.
These days, when someone from a newspaper or a journalism school asks me to join a panel about the future of journalism or address the question of why a newspaper should have blogs, my inner response is a scream: You are slipping into irrelevance! You have an analog product in a digital world! Your economic platform is dying! You must do something! Now, go read my stuff for the last two years, and Jarvis and Rosen and Yelvington and Thompson and Sands and Robinson and the Readership Institute. Then let's talk.
Issue fatigue? Certainly that's some of it, although as I told my friend Tom Abate (MiniMediaGuy) the other day I'm still hooked on journalism crack. More so, there's a sense of preaching to the choir - of which I am only a volunteer member. I cannot make a living telling newspapers to change or helping them work through the issues that prevent them from doing so. As a smart women told me recently: Remember, this is an industry that thinks spending $1,000 on something is a lot of money. So, I have been paying the rent working with non-journalists, folks who think the future belongs to those who invest in it and that change is an opportunity for growth not a dangerous tampering with tradition.
In this sense, I haven't lost my voice, but I may be losing faith in the audience. And that saddens me. When I see the tremendous amount of good newspaper and online journalism that accompanies a horrific event like Hurricane Katrina, when I witness the normal glibness of broadcast reporters give way to truly emotional truth-telling of human suffering around them and when I and others acknowledge the deep, prescient reporting about a disaster that could have been prevented had public officials heeded the warnings of journalists, I want all this to survive on a large scale. But in order for newspapers to continue to generate the revenue necessary to fund this breadth and depth of reporting, they must reinvent their economic and editorial models. Otherwise, quality journalism will be limited to those who can pay for it, to those who subscribe to specialty magazines or newsletters. The masses, those most dependent on a government that is continually under the watchdog's eye, will be left with the chaff, the free, understaffed, poorly reported newspapers, the crime-ridden TV news reports and the growing mass of celebrity journalism.
The journalism gap is already real. It will widen and our communities will be the poorer for it.
I am writing this because I am on a plane bound for Argentina, to a conference on "periodismo y comunicación en Internet," where I will speak about how blogs can be part of a future for Pan-American journalism. Next month, I will do the same thing at the APME conference. In both cases, I have very little time and am unsure how to make the time meaningful.
Do I let loose the inner scream (You are dying! Change!) or proceed more patiently as if I were convincing a child to try something new (Have a taste; it won't hurt.)? Can you explain the nature of cancer and the need for treatment to someone in 20 minutes?
I suspect I'll do both - and rely heavily on the thinking of people more patient people than I.
I'll tell them that Jeff Jarvis says that blogging is a metaphor for shift in the publishing paradigm and a tool that puts a digital printing press within keyboard's reach of anyone.
I'll tell them that 45 percent of Americans believe little or nothing printed in newspapers (so found the Pew Center) and the transparency a blog can bring to the reporting, editing and sourcing process can go a long way to restoring that credibility.
I'll them how blogging editor John Robinson of the Greensboro News & Record sees blogs as "yet another way to reach readers with relevant information about their community and their lives" without conceding ground on journalistic principles. "Our blogs," says Robinson, "particularly those written by news reporters -- adhere to all the traditional journalistic principles of integrity, objectivity and fair play."
I'll them tomorrow's newspaper audience is already online and today's moving there at an increasing rate. One-in-five people who call themselves newspaper readers primarily use the paper's online edition rather than read articles in print, Nielsen/NetRatings found this year.
I'll tell them that more than 4-in 10 younger people - those between 18 and 34 - use Yahoo and MSN at least once a day for news, found Merrill Browns' aptly named report, Abandoning the News.
I'll tell them that blogging can deepen beat reporting and help develop new sources, as it has for Todd Bishop, the Microsoft reporter for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
I'll tell them that blogging is fun, something the newspaper industry needs more of.
Says Michael Landauer, of the Dallas Morning News editorial page blog: "So why do we blog? … It's fun. It's another outlet. … As creative people, aren't we always striving for that? I mean, where else would I have written about the greatest movie lines this week?"
I'll tell them that journalists who serve communities, whether geographic or virtual, will survive the radical remaking now under way in the profession. Blogs create community by enabling and encouraging interaction. They enable journalism to extend into the community and they empower the community to commit journalism. As Hodding Carter said, "Don't cover the community, be the community." Look to the role Craigslist New Orleans and Nola.com played in the Katrina aftermath for survivors and their families.
I'll tell them the advertising money we need to pay for journalism is following the audience online and we need to get our share of it. Online newspaper advertising is on a $2 billion/annual run rate and growing year over year at about 40 percent, says the Newspaper Association of America.
I'll tell them that Technorati, last "State of the Blogosphere" report says number of blogs - now at 14.2 million (55 percent active) doubles every 23 weeks, with major spikes occurring in the midst of big news events like the London bombing. The next report likely will show another jump from Katrina.
And, finally, just to scream a little bit, I'll tell them change or die.Posted by Tim Porter at September 3, 2005 05:41 PM