Newspapers, news organizations, and social media in transition

This much is clear – by the end of 2009, there will be many fewer newspapers publishing in America.

Some attribute the fall of newspapers to:

Coming from where I come from, with the experience that I had at Philly.com, I couldn’t help but think that Jeff Jarvis and Clay Shirky’s point of view is a damaging re-write of history that obscures complicated truths. This is disappointing for me because both of them have important knowledge for newspaper organizations that can help them in their on going efforts to evolve, and their posting of what are essentially pieces that incite rather than provide insight did no one any favors. Jeff Jarvis, in particular, has been a major force in pushing along papers to meet the future. And I am literally a *fan* of Clay Shirky’s writings – I share many of them with who I work.

It could be that Clay Shirky was trolled by the off the wall piece by Ron Rosenbaum in Slate about Jeff Jarvis. It was a true blue hatchet job. Still, I felt the need to reply in comments to Shirky’s piece and to Jeff Jarvis’s piece celebrating Shirky’s article.

Me, replying to Clay Shirky (paraphrasing):

Sadly it is people like Rosenbaum who get the limelight, when perspectives of those within the industry are far, far different.

In fact they are so different that I say it is a dangerous re-writing of history to say that “The people who made their living from printing the news listened, and then decided not to believe us.”

You can pull famous examples such as Dan Gillmor or Jay Rosen or Jeff Jarvis himself.

You can look directly at archive.org to see the competitive state of newspaper websites in the late 90s or early 00s (note when they stopped evolving – the .com crash).

Undeniably there some within news organizations that are (were?) willfully ignorant – for sure – however I can tell you from personal experience that the majority of my ex-co-workers were not keeping their heads in the sand and had fought (are fighting) tooth and nail to bring culture change to their organizations.

Take a look at

http://inquirer.philly.com/packages/somalia/

1997.

These organizations were doing fabulously well in their economics btw. So much so that what is occurring is a textbook example of “the Innovator’s Dilemma” (thank you Henry Copeland for suggesting that book to me so long ago!).

You are more correct in your glacier analogy – however – think of it as a slow approaching death – a frog in a slow boiling pot of water.

Speaking of Dan Gillmor – I remember the difficulties he faced in getting his first blog off the ground within Knight Ridder. But he wasn’t alone in pursuing the future.

It is factually incorrect to state otherwise.

If there are any lessons to be learned by all this – they won’t occur if the narrative becomes a simplistic “we spoke – they ignored”.

And to not expect people to cry out as they lose their jobs – jobs that many have been fighting to transform when they are still relevant (the reporting not the papers) is bull.

Oh, and speaking of those in the trenches, consider speaking to Wendy Warren, Will Bunch, and Daniel Rubin of Philly.com, the Daily News, and Inquirer.

As Jeff Jarvis himself spoke well of two years ago:

http://www.buzzmachine.com/2006/03/25/saving-journalism-and-killing-the-press/

This narrative of “us smart people verus those dumb-asses who deserve what they get” needs to stop.

Me, replying to Jeff Jarvis (paraphrasing):

I’ll call bullshit on Clay and you both on the idea that no one has been “caught up in this great upheaval”. I’m a big fan of Clay Shirky. I share his writing with folks at work all the time and I’ve actually quoted him to you in various responses to you over the years.
There have been many newspaper folks fighting for change in that industry over the past ten years.

Ya know, there is part of me that is downright mad at this – it almost resembles a re-writing of history.

I maybe in your ignore list now Jeff, I’m not sure.

But I am secure in knowing that of the many, many people losing their jobs and careers in the midst of this ongoing revolution – a revolution I feel part of as an early adopter, promoter, evangelist, software engineer, blogger and more – there are thousands that do *not* deserve blame for what is going on.

I WILL NOT thumb my nose at them.

They fought, and in many places continue to fight, to drive business and culture changes in organizations that still have relevant value in a world where we are no better informed then we were 10 years ago according to Pew.

Change is life. But the big story here isn’t in the numbers of people who willfully looked the other way. There was some. But not the vast majority of people I worked with in the trenches at Philly.com.

Hell no.

And my heart goes out to them who fought (and continue to fight) with everything they have – to turn their ship around from the glacier that Shirky is right to indicate.

When the definitive history of this is recorded, hopefully it will capture the truth – that many of the guns pointed at the patient were those of the patient – but willful ignorance was the least of these. That many knew they were pursuing immediate profits over long term investments. Others were fighting for change and evolution to meet the future in every single project they worked on and found frustrating blockers in culture and immediate ROI turnaround demands of established businesses meeting the calls of investors. That culture and technology were dealing death blows to the ‘paper’ as information costs dropped towards zero and we each became empowered with our own printing presses – the Web.

There are *many* reasons. But I repeat – the narrative of “us smart people verus those dumb-asses who deserve what they get” needs to stop.

Everyone needs to get over themselves already.

Elsewhere and recent:

Talking Points Memo has announced it will be sending two new additional paid reporters to Washington DC while it has been reported that newspapers will be sending far fewer to cover happenings at the Capitol.

Pew Research Center, in a recent study, has announced the Internet has overtaken newspapers as a source of news.

Consumers Union (publisher of Consumer Reports) is buying Consumerist from Gawker Media. More on the news at Consumerist.

Business Week takes a look at other business models for journalism including a glance at Spot.us.

And at the LA Times an important milestone has been reached Web site revenue now exceeds its editorial payroll costs.

Meanwhile, Gabe Rivera speaks some hard to hear truth (to some) about automated news filters: Guess what? Automated news doesn’t quite work.

Jay Rosen summarizes the moment: Migration Point for the Press Tribe:

The professional news tribe is in the midst of a great survival drama. It has over the last few years begun to realize that it cannot live any more on the ground it settled so successfully as the industrial purveyors of one-to-many, consensus-is-ours news. The land that newsroom people have been living on–also called their business model–no long supports their best work. So they have come to a reluctant point of realization: that to continue on, to keep the professional press going, the news tribe will have to migrate across the digital divide and re-settle itself on terra nova, new ground. Or as we sometimes call it, a new platform.

Migration-which is easily sentimentalized by Americans–is a community trauma. Pulling up stakes and leaving a familiar place is hard. Within the news tribe some people don’t want to go. These are the newsroom curmudgeons, a reactionary group. Others are in denial still, or they are quietly drifting away from journalism. Many are being shed as the tribe contracts and its economy convulses. A few are admitting that it’s time to panic.

2 responses

  1. Corporate greed has always been a big factor. Newspapers used to be owned by people who had at least some sense of pride in serving the community, owners with a sense of mission (however flawed it might have been at times). Now they’re owned by bean counters who push for even bigger profit margins to make Wall St. happy.

    The readers are treated like sheep, and they know it.

    You can draw an instructive parallel with the music business. As soon as it stopped being about the music and the multinational corps took over, sales plummeted.

    And just like media group owners, they don’t get it, either. They can blame downloading all they want, but the fact is, their product is now so rarely worth the price.

  2. I think it was one of the big factors. This doesn’t jive with what more than a few technologists seem to believe, which is unfortunate.

Comments are closed.