Society Doesn’t Need Newspapers; It Needs Journalism

Disruption of Technology =  Growth of Journalism
I’m holding something cool in my hands this morning: the first weekly edition of The Christian Science Monitor.  They publish the news online daily, free for all, and print a weekly review with some print-only content just for subscribers.  In it you’ll find an editorial about the return of the moral hero in America (Obama), the John Muir of China (not online), and how inmates in Lebanon’s largest prison are engage in drama.

Whether this is your kind of journalism or not, it’s certainly more efficient that printing five dailies per week and sending them to subscribers via US mail. That just didn’t make sense in a net-centric world.

The Monitor has always been more like the Economist than a daily newspaper.  I hope this is just the start of their transformation, as the forces that caused this change are only accelerating.

The Business of Journalism Is Knocked Over
The first home computers with internet access were both a means of production and an efficient distribution channel for everything from airline tickets and stock purchases to classified ads.

The competition-deflecting effects of printing costs got destroyed by the internet, where everyone pays for the infrastructure, and then everyone gets to use it. And when Wal-Mart, and the local Maytag dealer, and the law firm hiring a secretary, and that kid down the block selling his bike, were all able to use that infrastructure to get out of their old relationship with the publisher, they did. They’d never really signed up to fund the Baghdad bureau anyway.

Clay Shirky

New Models for the News Business
So, who does fund the Baghdad bureau, investigative journalism, and the art of news photography?  Competing models are emerging.  When I worked for the Monitor, I often talked about the NPR model, with its growth in quality and reach funded by foundation-level gifts.  Likewise, The Christian Science Monitor has enjoyed financial support the the Christian Science Church.  So it may be that quality journalism will emerge as more a non-profit enterprise than an advertising business.

Others are taking a more entrepreneurial approach. There are writers that will cover issues if their audiences pledge and pay for their journalism.  However, in an age of blogs and citizen journalists, a Baghdad bureau may be an anachronism.  After all, native writers with journalistic tools and training may be better able to cover news they’re close to than someone flown in from Boston, New York, or London.

Will the Blogosphere’s “Minor Leagues” Keep Journalism More Honest?
When James Fallows at the Atlantic calls John Stewart the new Edward R. Murrow, it’s clear that a portion of professional journalism needs a reality check.  There’s been a spate of big-paper editorialists making up characters and events.

At this moment, no one knows for sure what will work. But it’s pretty clear that the newspaper model, from USA Today to the Boston Globe to the free newspapers, is in serious decline.  It’s time for a new generation of news consumers to grab on to some of these new models and to sort out what works for them.

Five years from now, journalism will be both familiar and unrecognizable.  And the forms these businesses take will be influenced by what early adopters, like you, enjoy and promote.

1 Response to "Society Doesn’t Need Newspapers; It Needs Journalism"

  • RadioSky

    July 18, 2015

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