The Future of News

December 8, 2006

Yesterday was a big day for my interactive journalism thoughts. It doesn’t need to be said (again) that the web is the future of everything and most certainly the media. But, how will journalists react and what can we do to ensure quality and above all, accountability? As Geneva Overholser said last night at the Future of News panel at a meeting of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, journalists need to continue to work in the public interest, in the midst of change.

Debbie Galant of baristanet.com visited the school (CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, duh) yesterday to speak to budding interactive students, or rather, smart, forward-thinking media minds. She was an infectious guest-funny, engaging and almost inspiring. Her blog, or community news website (whatever you want to call it), is a model that has inspired many similar websites, including one of my favorites, newhavenindependent.org.

Galant’s site is hyper-local, and that’s what makes it successful. Local businesses advertise, and everything covered takes place within the same three towns in New Jersey. The reach of her site is therefore minimal, but no less important to her readers. It fills, as she says, a niche. Baristanet works in the community it serves, but it doesn’t serve the same purpose, (and it doesn’t want to), as national or international news organizations.

Covering those national and international issues, and reaching wider audiences while still raking in profits, is a whole other issue. The panel discussion last night at the Time-Life building attempted to address it. Those who sat on the panel are esteemed media professionals: Jeff Jarvis, my professor and the founder of Buzzmachine.com, Jill Ambramson, Managing Editor of The New York Times, Jonathan Klein, President of CNN/U.S., Geneva Overholser, Chair in Public Affairs Reporting at the University of Missouri School of Journalism and John Carroll, former editor of the Los Angeles Times and lecturer at the Shorenstein Center at Harvard University. Norman Pearlstine, Senior Advisor at The Carlyle Group, moderated.

Jarvis is a proponent of what he used to call “citizen journalism,” but now refers to as “networked journalism.” He says we need to be “more collaborative, more open” in the age of convergence, and believes that a conversation between the readers and those producing content is absolutely necessary. “It’s incumbent on us to work together,” he said.

The monetary issues (how do we pay those that report the news?!) is the big issue- no one can deny it. What is the business model of the future? Abramson said The Times was not defined by a business model, but rather by their quality of journalism. “I’m not going to join the chorus of doom-sayers,” she said. “I see a great future, economically.”

But The New York Times stands alone, most other papers and news outlets are not in as comfy a position. As Abramson said herself, the average income of her readers is $90,000 and the average age is 45. Not exactly the norm.

But what about the public interest? Investigative journalism and uncovering buried information that the government doesn’t want you to know about is hard, and expensive. As Abramson said, a blogger may not have been unable to uncover and clearly report the NSA wire-tapping scandal. All on the panel said long-standing pillars such as The Times and The Washington Post need to exist in order for blogs and interactivity to also prosper.

A solution? No, of course not! A start? Yeah. The old media and the internet have met and one will either engulf the other, or a plateau will form where both can exist. Overholser said it well. “The avid consumer is offered more and better options. We traditionalists would do well to embrace it.”

(By the way, I usually type like e.e. cummings, all lowercase, but the lovely joy bergman asked me to change my crazy ways. this is my first attempt.)

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2 Responses to “The Future of News”

  1. What a compelling and easy read. Bless your capitalizing heart. Now regretting not attending the fete. Alas, the call of the Russian…

  2. Agreed. Now if we can make the type bigger for older professorial eyes….

    Good report on and reaction to the session. j

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