A flying seminar on the future of news

Discussion about the future of news (and the future of any newspaper, in particular) has intensified, it seems, with each succeeding week of our semester. In fact, there have been many times when I’ve felt that this course’s syllabus needs to be rewritten in real-time to keep pace with the accelerating change all around us—both events on the ground (e.g., newspaper shutdowns, shrinking staffs, the general economic reordering) and the thoughtful interpretations and analyses emerging online.

In fact, just in the past week or so, while we were enjoying spring break, several key articles, ideas, polemics, screeds, and obituaries about journalism have pulsed through the blogosphere, and they deserve our attention in Tuesday’s class.

I liked Jay Rosen‘s idea of a “flying seminar,” in which he’s culled the essential “reading list” on the future of news, with several pieces from recent days. I’m pasting his Twitter posts below. Please read at least most of these items and then, in the comments section, teach us something: Raise some questions, look for themes, give us your synthesized take on the future of news.

In the future of new flying seminar these are the recent urls you need to have mastered to…uh, pass the course! (1/3) http://is.gd/nhW0

(2/3) Future of news flying seminar: key links, cont. Starr: http://is.gd/jMNE Benkler http://is.gd/m2kg Johnson http://is.gd/nl7B and

(3/3) Future of news flying seminar: key links, cont. Conover: http://is.gd/oblK Eaves: http://is.gd/nIHJ Winer: http://is.gd/o4cc

Future of news flying seminar, key links: Bonus round: Young http://is.gd/o2CJ Morford http://is.gd/o8Fp Watson: http://is.gd/nuzq (4/4)

There really isn’t any future of news flying seminar; just my Twitter feed 🙂 Two more? @vincrosbie http://is.gd/kpl1 and http://is.gd/omSI

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24 Responses to “A flying seminar on the future of news”

  1. 1 jerseyjack21 March 22, 2009 at 7:51 am

    Hi, not a student here but got the twitter from Jay Rosen. I think your idea of a reading list for the future of news is a great idea! I have been trying to do that with google reader–but to no avail. I am a freshman in high school and really like your links posted about the future of news. Is there any really credible blog or column about the important topic of the future of news.

    I blog @ http://jacktrib.blogspot.com/

  2. 2 jengerson March 22, 2009 at 8:08 am

    I discuss some of the possibilities for a post-newspaper world for journos at my blog jengerson.wordpress.com.

    It’s a bit wry, but I’ve yet to see anyone really discuss what the hell we’re all going to do in a few years.


  3. 3 Michele Pierini March 22, 2009 at 8:09 pm

    I’m not sure how I feel about the future of the newspaper. It wouldn’t be much different for me because I rarely pick up printed news. Sometimes I will look it up on the internet, but that’s when I’m looking for something specific like a major event.

    In the Shirky article I thought it was interesting that he mentioned newspapers’ option of suing people who infringed copyright of their content. It reminds me of the kids who got sued for illegally downloading music by the RIAA. And we all know how well that deters people from getting free music. If someone wants the content for free they will find a way to get around paying for it.

    The Goodbye Newspapers reading emphasized the problem with newspapers scaling back operations to save money. Especially in bureaus that cover governmental news. Less reporters means less checks on the government. Their watchdog function is declining and making them less useful for the public.

    I don’t think demand for the kind of news that newspapers provide will ever go away, but the format of a newspaper might. However this could just be one of those media evolution things. Could be similar to records > tapes > CDs; all of them play music but the sound quality is much different.

  4. 4 meerarajagopalan March 23, 2009 at 6:28 pm

    Yeah for readership from other people!!! And getting twitter status with Jay Rosen.

    I agree with Michele. Where there is a will, there is a way. Some sites take the content and post it on an alternate source, like a blog. There will be a need for newspapers, because there will be a generation that likes holding that tangible element.

    This past weekend, when I told people I’m studying journalism, I started to preface it with Multimedia journalism, because they were all talking about how it is a shrinking career. It was one of those smile and nod moments, because the people who were saying it were older, and I wasn’t in the mood to argue.

  5. 5 Robert Rich March 23, 2009 at 7:17 pm

    Here’s what I’m worried about: we’re approaching overkill regarding this issue. I don’t mean that it’s something that shouldn’t be discussed or attempted to solve (it most certainly should), but we’ve almost reached the point to where we’re repeating ourselves. Newspapers are failing, yes. People aren’t reading the news, true. We need to do something, agreed.

    I almost hate to say this because Jay Rosen is quite brilliant at analyzing these issues, and the posts he links to are just as insightful. We definitely need people researching and discussing these problems, but we also need people to do something. We’re slowly but surely getting there, but I’m afraid it isn’t at a fast enough rate.

    Unfortunately, somebody’s gonna have to bite the bullet and go the Xanga route. In other words, one organization’s just going to have to lay it all the line and try something different (perhaps all these things we’re talking about), but like we’ve so many times, chances are that they’ll fail, and somebody will come along and cash in on the same idea with a few minor improvements.

    So here’s my question: who is going to be the Good Samaritan, the sacrificial lamb that tries to implement a new business model, only to fail and watch their profits go the way of Steve Jobs and Apple?

  6. 6 Amy Neyhard March 23, 2009 at 7:37 pm

    I entirely agree with Robert! Someone is just going to have to step up and try something different until we can get it right. It is going to take more than one try to get it right so why not start now?

    All of the articles have the common theme of: What’s next? Sure we can all guess what we think is coming but why not try it? Yes we all know that change is here, it is happening right now.

    I also agree with Michelle in the fact that yes, we can punish people for copyright infringement but people will always find a way to get around paying for it. Paying for material will not work. Who is really going to do it?

    Here is my question: What is actually next? and Who is going to be the first one to step up to the plate to at least TRY?

  7. 7 Jill March 23, 2009 at 9:01 pm

    I find these readings very interesting. I thought Clay Shirky’s comments equating the loss of the American newspaper to a revolution were well….shocking but appropriate. We live in changing times. One of the many things that concerns me when reading about the future of newspapers is the future of journalism, especially editorial diversity. While I admire the New York Times for what it is, it can never be to the Denver population what say the Rocky Mountain was. And if the fate of the metro daily is to scale back who is to fill in the gaps? Is there a place for professional community journalism, or will it be up the blogosphere. And I know we have talked this issue to death, but how professional are they?

    What is going to happen to the craft of journalism? The richness of it? Here is my nightmare: everything is black and white, professionals are forced to do eat-your-peas journalism, and the rest is covered by bloggers 😦

    I will say two encouraging things. I recently spoke to the metro editor at the Austin American Statesman, Dave Harmon. His paper is in the in the tipping point position discussed in 2020 vision, being the only metro daily in a big city. In our conversation, Harmon said that the recent change in the news media has bought above all, openness to innovation. Newsrooms have become think tanks, (for sale, but think tanks none the less) in order to survive. And as far as editorial diversity, I think magazines are going to salvage some (not all) of our great craft. Long-form story telling just cannot be done in newspapers like it used to be, but it can be told in publications like Texas Monthly, where people are still willing to pay for it. I don’t know if there is a future for newspapers, but it good to know that there is a future for journalism and probably a job out there for those of us willing to figure out the transitional phase.

  8. 8 Larry Dechant March 23, 2009 at 10:30 pm

    All of this news is scary, especially for aspiring journalists. The fact that newspapers are failing and that people are not reading the news is even more terrifying. So, what are we to do? What do we do to get readers more involved?

    Shirky’s article was interesting. He said, “society doesn’t need newspapers. What we need is journalism.” In my opinion, part of this statement is true. We need journalism, but I feel we also need newspapers. Newspapers are the foundation of journalism and I love being able to read and hold the newspaper.

    New models need to come, and they need to come fast. We need a way to provide revenue for printing papers, by using the internet. We need to find a way to charge internet users a fee so that we can keep the paper copy up and running. I feel like the loss of the newspaper is like the loss of an american icon. I am sad to see where the fate of the newspaper lies. 😦

  9. 9 Scott Richert March 24, 2009 at 9:39 am

    Some of these readings were a bit out there for my taste. The Article “Goodbye to the Age of Newspapers (Hello to a New Era of Corruption)” suggested that the collapse of American Newspapers will essentially lead to the collapse of American society.

    I believe saying things like that is going a little too far. While the collapse of the American papers has caused somewhat of an uproar in the media community, the public at large is embracing the change.

    As for their assertion that coverage will decrease and that politicians will no longer have need to fear exposure is completely off base. Remember that some of the most important political stories in the past ten years were broken online and not in print.

    The New York Times article about major cities losing their big dailies was interesting however. I agree that a city losing its only paper would be a very unsettling.

    Maybe we should fly our private jets to Washington and ask congress for a bail out (I hear they are just handing out the dough!)

  10. 10 Seth C. Lewis March 24, 2009 at 9:51 am

    @jerseyjack21: Thanks for the comment, and I’m glad to see you’re interested. Even though you’re not in this class, feel free to “join us” here anytime! … Try this blog (one of my favorites on the future of news): http://www.niemanlab.org/

    @jengerson: Thanks for your comment, too! I’ll check out your blog.

  11. 11 Rachel March 24, 2009 at 10:17 am

    I liked David Eaves’ blog about the importance of transparency as opposed to objectivity, and journalists as mystery solvers than puzzle solvers. I think that journalists are extremely important in editing the world for the audience to understand, and I don’t think the need for news organizations is disappearing. “In a transparent landscape where huge amounts of information about most organizations is being generated and shared the critical role of the journalist will be that of mystery solving – figuring out how to analyze, synthesize and discover the mystery within the vast quantity of information.” I didn’t know that the Enron scandal was discovered through this new model of reporting and not the old investigative ways.

    Okay, I’m going to go out on a limb and say it: I think that newspapers should just get rid of print or maybe just switch to a weekly publication. They could put all their best stories and deeper feature stories into the Sunday edition and the rest of the week have all their content online. and free. Everything is shifting online anyway and newspapers are losing money to print their paper, so just get rid of the print edition. I think JOURNALISM is an integral part of our society, but I think that some are confusing journalism with newsprint. Why are we trying to save newspapers? I don’t mean journalism, I mean the actual paper that news has been printed on. You can get it online and in real time, and that seems better to me. You can comment on stories as they’re happening and be a part of the news. I don’t want to get rid of news organizations. I just think that the medium in which the news is delivered should be changed. I like print too (I work at a print shop!), but for breaking news, you can’t beat the internet. Scribes used to copy published works, like the Bible, until the printing press came along. Does anyone still hand copy books? No, because a more efficient way to do it emerged. If there is a more efficient way to get the news out there, why is everyone still clinging to the old model?

  12. 12 Justine March 24, 2009 at 10:44 am

    I agree with what Robert said about this being overkill, but if we keep having to hear about newspapers/journalism industry dying I like reading it from Rosen and Jarvis. They contribute while connecting the ideas that everyone has thrown out there.

    “Round and round this goes, with the people committed to saving newspapers demanding to know “If the old model is broken, what will work in its place?” To which the answer is: Nothing. Nothing will work. There is no general model for newspapers to replace the one the internet just broke.”

    I think this is key because everyone is asking the same question in ALL of my journalism classes and the truth is there isn’t a solution to the old problem (dying newspapers). Micro-payments, endowments, government owned newspapers etc… I don’t see any of these as being the future of journalism (but maybe a combination of sorts.)

    News is already online, people aren’t going to pay for it. Something has to be invented (maybe completely new) to make a way for news to be profitable. Now more than ever, people want information. Journalism and news gathering is not going to stop, but the way it’s done has to be accomplished in a new fashion. What’s this? NO ONE KNOWS YET, will one of you please invent something already so we can all have find jobs!

    “Society doesn’t need newspapers. What we need is journalism. For a century, the imperatives to strengthen journalism and to strengthen newspapers have been so tightly wound as to be indistinguishable. That’s been a fine accident to have, but when that accident stops, as it is stopping before our eyes, we’re going to need lots of other ways to strengthen journalism instead.”

    Journalists are passionate people and I don’t think they are in it for the money, but journalism has to make a profit to fund the research because people aren’t going to do it for free. And yes citizen journalists do great work on the net without getting paid, but professional journalists have to stay afloat to keep things accurate and trustworthy.

  13. 13 Simrat Sharma March 24, 2009 at 10:49 am

    These were interesting readings. There was a sharp contrast in the way that bloggers like Clay Shirky saw the future as compared to say, Paul Starr. Starr’s melodramatic prediction about a rampage of political corruption with the fall of the newspaper sounded like a really desperate attempt to me. I agree about journalism’s role as the Fourth Estate but it does not have to be conducted in the same way that it was earlier. The fall of a certain way to disseminate news does not mean there are no alternatives, especially in today’s online atmosphere.

    Shirky said some things that really put ideas about the role of good journalism into perspective. He said,”When reality is labeled unthinkable, it creates a kind of sickness in an industry.” The point should have been beat dead by now. If something is not working, it is just not. Moreover, if something else is taking over and working tons better, you have to really let go and at least try to jump on the bandwagon. Newspapers out. (Fill in the blank) in. Now, we just need some accidental or otherwise spark of brilliance to help predict where we go from here. For this, the age-old method of trial and error might drudge up a solution. I agree with Rachel about newspapers getting rid of the loss-inducing print publications and making their content free online. It’s a start (although a sad one for journalists).

  14. 14 Justine March 24, 2009 at 11:17 am

    check out this website Bob Jensen gave us in Media Law and Ethics class today, its right up Rosen’s ally with all the talk of newspapers and what’s next


    “The technologies and the economic challenges are, of course, more complex than in the 1790s, but the answer is the same: the democratic state, the government, must create the conditions for sustaining the journalism that can provide the people with the information they need to be their own governors.”

  15. 15 Stephen Keller March 24, 2009 at 11:57 am

    I agree with Rob. There is only so much we can learn from someone like Jay Rosen. We’ve identified the problem, now we need to fix it.

    But I don’t need to read a blog post to find out about the decline in newspaper circulation and advertising revenue. I deal with that on a daily basis. I just had a long discussion yesterday with the Texan advisor, who will probably be laid off, about what future managing editors will need to implement.

    This stuff is scary, but we need to stop bitching about it and do something.

    Now, there is no one easy fix, instead little techniques that we can try which may or may not help.

    I strongly disagree with Rachel. Going completely online is impossible if you want to keep the same level of coverage. Newspapers have big staffs to constantly pump out hard-hitting stories.

    I’m not saying online publications are bad. My point is that you can’t support a staff like say the New York Times or even The Daily Texan by going completely online. Web ads just don’t make enough money.

  16. 16 Christina G March 24, 2009 at 1:11 pm

    Oh my. I completely forgot that we are supposed to comment on this stuff by noon.

    I like Meera’s comment about trying to explain that you’re studying multi-media journalism. When I tell people I’m studying journalism I follow it up with a fret about how I’ll ever make money writing.

    I don’t think that going completely online is such a touch option, we just have to learn to make it happen. I started reading Le Cool recently, and it’s an online mag delivered to your inbox with information from specific countries (you select the country you’d like to get the mag from) and I’m pretty sure they will grow massively in popularity.

    I’m finally starting to understand this whole local push Seth has been trying to hammer home. It doesn’t look like anything can thrive unless it goes back to local roots and does that well. This is a light bulb moment for me.

    Clay Shirkey’s blog was really interesting. I like to be reminded that the craziest ideas are sometimes the best, and that when we decide that something is unthinkable, we close ourselves off in a very bad way. Of course, how do you live life thinking anythiing could happen? You might go crazy.

    Sorry for the late post!

  17. 17 Samantha D March 24, 2009 at 2:03 pm

    Sorry Seth…also didn’t realise the readings this week were for comment, please excuse the late post!

    After reading all the articles though, and everyones responses, and hearing about the dying nature of journalism in all my other journalism classes, I feel a little overwhelmed. Like Scott and other members of the class, my initial reaction was that there was a huge overkill on the writing, hypothesizing, commenting on the future of news – what we need is more action, more ideas, more risk taking and more people willing to go out on a limb and try new business models.

    And although admitedly I am pondering whether I have the stamina or motivation to be part of this shaky, uncertain revolution, this is where us journalism students have a break, an opportunity, that journalism students graduating 20 years ago didn’t have. No one can predict what’s going to happen, so it’s up to us to get out there and start contributing to the change, thinking of new ideas.

    One of the ideas I liked came from Conover, who proposed the idea of publishing hard copies of newspapers a couple of times a week as opposed to every day, as well as co-op agreements and outsourcing. This seems a pretty safe avenue to try. Shirky, however, would argue that this still goes back to the ultimate problem of the newspaper conundrum – trying to preserve the old forms of nature of journalism in a world of cheap perfect copies.

    I think an area that warrants a substantial amount of debate and theorisation is the effects the fall of newspapers will have on democracy. A number of different view points arose from the readings. Shirky: In order to preserve democracy, we don’t need newspapers, but journalism. Starr: Is worried about the statistics showing that lower news circulation equates into higher levels of corruption. He argues/is concerned, therefore, that democracy will suffer if the death of newspapers and journalism restricts checks on government. Benkler: Opposed Starr’s views, saying that even without newspapers, such iniatives such as Starlight can act as an antidote to newpapers flailing attempts to keep a check on government. I think I’m inclined to agree with Benkler.

    One final question I really liked by Eaves…In a world where anyone can be a journalist, is anyone a journalist?

  18. 18 Lauren Oakley March 24, 2009 at 4:25 pm

    Wow. Forgot we were supposed to blog comment about the readings until class. Completely slipped my mind. Dang Spring Break! Ugh. Sorry it’s REALLY late Seth. Better late than never I guess.

    After the readings, I still believe that newspapers are a dying profession. I always have because of the accessibility and immediacy the web provides over print.

    What we need to change is the format of web writing and obviously, figure out a way to make money off of it. An obvious mistake was made when the internet was first developed, making everything free for the public. Holding a tangible newspaper has no value to me because I usually throw it away when I am done reading it anyway.

    The web provides a 24/7 news cycle over print. It is also easier to crowd source and interact with readers on a personal level with feedback forums, blogs, etc.. We should stop trying to save it and working against change. Rather we should embrace the change, adapt to the new story teller style, and remember that what’s most important is that as journalists, our main job is to deliver the news through whatever media necessary.

    Maybe Obama will bailout newspapers along with everything else?

  19. 19 Sarah Lacy March 26, 2009 at 2:04 am

    I love Michele’s comparison of the evolution of news to the evolution of music. I think it is spot on. The medium WILL change, but the core function of the news will stay the same. Larry said, “I love being able to read and hold the newspaper.” This is an opinion held by many people. But it is not the physical paper that is the problem with newspapers. The main problem is the method of delivery. Going from writer to press to newsboy to doorstep to reader is simply inefficient. The Internet is not only faster and more far-reaching, but it also allows searches, interactivity, and wider breadth than you would ever find in a newspaper. If readers want something physical to hold then why not deliver to them via the Internet for them to print home?

    The two “New Republic” articles seem very grim. It is scary to think about our society without journalism. Journalism does not seem to be a naturally occurring part of society, based on the fact that it is such a recent phenomenon. It is also scary that journalism, such an integral part of modern society, bases it future on ad revenues. If ads cannot be sold on the Internet then maybe we need to rethink the advertising side of the news. Instead of focusing all of our efforts on the writing, new models could be developed for online marketing and advertising. Another option could be developing a business model that does not rely on ad sales (I know this has been discussed, but I think there are other options out there that people have yet to discover).

    Conover’s look at journalism in the next 20 years is interesting. Although there is no way to know what will happen, his predictions (especially the short term) seem very appropriate. I think we will see a reorganization of the news industry. The Internet has spread information like wildfire. Journalism will adapt to this whether it likes it or not. Niche media with flourish, multiple people for the same story will not be necessary, and local news coverage will become the focus.

  20. 20 Kristin March 26, 2009 at 10:41 am

    I too agree with Rob on his overkill comment and I like how bluntly Stephen put it when he said “we’ve identified the problem, now we need to fix it.” And I think people in general, not just journalists, are realizing this, they just don’t really know how to go about “fixing it.” For example, one of my best guy friends is trying to start up a Web site that he thinks will solve the problem, but he won’t tell me about it because it’s so “amazing” he says! But my point is, he is not a journalist nor is his major journalism and he is trying to solve this problem! Which is good! I think having as many ideas as possible could definitely help solve the problem. Any implementation is better than none at all, no matter who its coming from.

    I like how in the 2020 article, it talks about “information scalability.” It says that the “engineering trick for journalism will be to create systems that scale the true global flow of data to levels that can be used comfortably by humans.” I know it is basically just saying the same thing we already know but I really liked the way it was worded here because I think a huge part of the problem is having information overload. If we start eliminating smaller papers and leave it up to the big guys to do all the reporting, something is going to get overlooked. There is no way they can do it all. They would have to change their stories every 30 minutes on their web sites.

    Something interesting happened to me over the break that definitely plays into all of this! I went into a grocery store in Longview, Texas (fairly small town but not terribly small) and a guy at the entrance quickly caught my attention because he was handing out the local paper for free! After he handed over a paper he then went on to explain a special promotion the paper was doing by offering a low subscription fee that didn’t have to be paid until months later or you got the first 6 issues free or something along those lines. Oh and this particular day was the absolute LAST day it was being offered! (his attempt at trying to get me to subscribe) Anyway, we got to talking and I told him I was in journalism and what not and he was just so interested! He started asking me all kinds of questions like what was I learning, did I know how to operate web sites, etc. And the whole time all I could think about was this class! It seems that the local paper is struggling and a reporter for the paper was very interested to know what new methods I was learning in school. All very relevant to our class!

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March 2009

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