(T)he plight of the news business does not presage the end of news. As large branches of the industry wither, new shoots are rising. The result is a business that is smaller and less profitable, but also more efficient and innovative.
New sources of news are proliferating online. Many, it is true, are unreliable. Most are badly funded. Some are the rantings of deranged extremists. But some—like Muckety, an American site which enriches news stories with interactive maps of the protagonists’ networks of influence, and NightJack, the revealing and depressing blog of an anonymous British policeman, which won the Orwell prize last month—enhance society’s understanding of itself, and could not have existed in the old world.
From the same issue, a leader: Media: The rebirth of news | The Economist.
Many of the hard lessons being learned around the industry this year and last are assembled in one place in these pieces from The Economist, living up to its reputation as the best source in the world for carefully selected obituaries. No, wait, just kidding; of course it is the best place in the world to find those one or two obits you need to read per fortnight (this week: Margaret Gelling, “expert on British place names”). But taken together, and even taken separately, the editorial and the news story show a better than fair understanding of what has happened (“The main victim is not so much the newspaper . . . as the conventional news package”) and what might happen next.
Not that there aren’t cautionary tales. The writers don’t link it explicitly to the president’s recent comments about the newspaper business, or the Congressional hearings on same, or the Washington State tax break for publishers, but doesn’t the following graf get you wondering about government intervention in general on this side of the pond….
Just now journalists have less competition from crowds than from governments. In Britain local authorities have created newsletters that carry advertising. The annual budget for the websites of the (state-owned) BBC was recently raised to £145m ($220m). According to Mr [Paul] Zwillenberg [a consultant], the total online spending of the country’s national newspapers is only £100m.
Um, can you say whitehouse.gov? (Do you follow @whitehouse on Twitter?)
I finally got to these two pieces today, by coincidence the day that Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo spoke on Journalism Day at Columbia University. “There’s no time…that I would rather enter the profession than right now,” Marshall said, as reported by Megan Garber at cjr.org (and, earlier, tweeted by her [@megangarber]). “It’s the people entering the profession now who are going to create the publishing models, the business models, that are going to shape journalism in the 21st century.” He also had a fair amount to say about the importance on engaging an audience, one of the key topics that’s taught here at Medill to our slice of the people who will be doing the shaping.
One of the best things about The Economist, of course, is that it is guilty of very little of the faux-even-handed “remains to be seen”-type kicker paragraph. (The editors and journalists seem to know, as Marshall said Tuesday, that “One of the great failings of journalism has been the tendency to emphasize balance over accuracy” at the cost of “a fundamental honesty with readers.”) So it sends us off with a reality check that I won’t quote out of context, but that you can easily find at the first link above.
As for me, I’ll send us off with a quote from Jay Rosen of NYU and PressThink: “The future of news is open, more entrepreneurial. Open can also mean broken, repair date unknown. If you know how the old one fell apart, it’s easier to put something new together.” And that’s what The Economist is helping even the most casual of its readers to understand.