The ‘present’ of journalism: diagnosing problems

For Tuesday, I’d like you to read two pieces that will give you an overview of the “state of journalism”:

1) The Reconstruction of American Journalism

2) State of the News Media 2009 (and by that I mean the overview and the major trends)

On Thursday, we’ll move from discussing the “problems” to focusing on proposed “solutions”—not that we’ll cover everything in just one week, but you’ll at least get a better idea for the lay of the land here.

As usual, please leave your analysis in the comments section below.

[p.s.if you’re interested, listen to Alex Jones discuss “Losing the News”]

17 Responses to “The ‘present’ of journalism: diagnosing problems”

  1. 1 Donnie Hogan February 6, 2010 at 1:47 am

    Ok, so I just got done reading Downie and Schudson’s “Reconstruction of American Journalism” and I must admit, I’m still a bit confused. I understood completely until i hit page 13 and they proposed making news organizations non-profit. I still don’t understand how non-profit status saves newspapers forever. I understand that donors can make tax-deductible contributions, but we’re talking about sustaining numerous papers/stations across the county.
    Am I the only one who doesn’t think this will hold up in the long run or am I missing something?
    Also, whoever proposed the laughable idea that local television and radio would take over newspaper’s investigative role is crazy. They must not be watching the same local news stations I longer watch because of how terrible they are. Not to mention TV is losing their ad audience as well with technologies like DVR. I can simply avoid commercials all together. Radio may be growing in popularity, but doesn’t fill the needs of today’s consumer. We need more than just audio. We need to interact with news, see news, be able to link to more information about news that interests us, etc.
    Then they said, “There is unlikely to be any single new economic model for supporting news reporting” and followed up by saying “American society must take some collective responsibility for supporting independent news reporting in this new environment”.
    I wouldn’t put too much faith in American society brother. Those are the same bunch of folks that would much rather read/hear about Jon and Kate and Tiger Woods than news that will actually affect their lives.

  2. 2 Sean Beherec February 6, 2010 at 8:04 pm

    These readings, though they did touch on the usual doom and gloom, provided a glimmer of hope for the future by including a laundry list of possible solutions for the journalism world. The Downie and Schudson readings I thought were especially helpful, with their discussion of current models that are showing promise for the future, including non-profit models and for-profit news co-ops.
    I agree with their statements on the benefits of having reporters supported by money, logistics and legal services, which a freelance journalist or a blogger cannot always utilize. Downie and Schudson very clearly state that journalists need some kind of organization with these resources in which to regularly do good work. So whatever model is adopted, these resources should also be included.
    In “The State of the News Media” reading, it suggests how journalism is turning away from journalistic institutions and toward individual journalists. Although this may be good for journalists who hope to do freelance work, missing out on those resources that an institution has to offer may degrade the quality of the eventual product. One of my favorite models mentioned in “The State of the News Media” is that of the partnerships between news organizations to share content and resources. I think if more organizations worked together to pool resources, they would benefit in the long-run.

  3. 3 Patricia Rodriguez February 7, 2010 at 4:25 pm

    “The Reconstruction of Journalism” was helpful in that it offered a clear picture of the options out there for revamping journalism as the newspaper dies. Non-profit models, micro payment models, aggregate news organization models, government funded models were all well-explored in the article and I gathered the general conclusion is that none of the models are complete or completely realistic. I enjoyed the pieces of the article that discussed what IS working in out new media world. I think that may be a great place to further investigate how to make new media and even old media work. Localization seems to be niche that fosters some amount of success. There are several model in large cities like San Diego and Seattle that have their readership localized and loyal. Collaboration seems to be another possible success idea. The blending of the blogosphere and old media by news corporations has seen some success as well.

    Sharing content is another subject discussed in “The State of the News Media.” Partnerships between news organizations may seem like a good idea for their longevity however, it might just be a band aid for a larger, much more complicated problem. Sharing content is ideal in that it reduces the number of staff and resources needed to produce content but that doesn’t solve other problems growing rapidly i.e. layoffs, profit-making.

  4. 4 Amber Genuske February 7, 2010 at 11:48 pm

    “The Reconstruction of American Journalism” presents an argument of how the Internet is helping individual journalists but killing newspapers (around pg. 3-5) To the reporter, the Internet is a vital tool, but what does this mean for print? This is the big question and as we read/discussed briefly last week, something that publications are going to have to deal with instead of holding on to their paper. One clever idea presented is to charge per article in an iTunes style so people can custom tailor their news experience. The discussion of nonprofit news organizations is intriguing, but a concern to me because how will the reporting not be biased towards those with the largest donations? Ultimately, advertising is going to make the money, so it seems.

    “The State of the Media” discusses alternative ideas on how to fund publication’s Web sites like building major online retail malls within news sites. This idea was presented briefly in the previous article as well. I am wondering when these ideas are actually going to be tested, though. Could this become an issue of ethics? On biases? (That seems to be the big question on my mind tonight). The rest of “Major Trends” follows basically what “Reconstruction” did, just in a more concise way.

  5. 5 Holly MacRossin February 8, 2010 at 11:03 am

    In “The Reconstruction of American Journalism,” I wasn’t surprised to hear about cutting costs, dying newspapers and the all mighty Internet taking over. This quote did stand out to me however:

    “As newspapers sharply reduce their staffs and news reporting to cut costs and survive, they also reduce their value to their readers and communities.” (pg 5)

    I think this is absolutely true. Sure they are “saving money” but the credentials are going down in my opinion. Where does it stop? Newspapers need to realize that cutting valuable assets are just prolonging the death of their industry. Perhaps they need to take a hard look at the future and maybe take suggestions from this report. Non-profit newspapers, cooperative newspapers, or any and all switches to online could help this dying art.

    The cooperative idea in the first report kind of tied into what was discussed in “The State of the Media.” In this second article it talks about sharing content and working together (various news outlets, that is). I agree with what Patricia said in her response, I’m not sure that borrowing and sharing content will be such a good thing in the long run. It might make things easier for now, but you can’t lean on someone else forever.

  6. 6 katiemyung February 8, 2010 at 10:15 pm

    Both Downie and Schudson’s “The Reconstruction of American Journalism” and “The State of the News Media” point out that newspapers have been threatened because of new media.

    In “The Reconstruction of American Journalism,” Downie and Schudson argue that internet revolution helped to accelerate the decline in print readership, and newspapers responded by offering their content for free on their news Web sites.Some newspapers began losing money, and the depressed earnings of many others were not enough to service the debt that their owners had run up while continuing to buy new properties. In “The State of the News Media,” Newspaper ad revenues have fallen 23% in the last two years. Some papers are in bankruptcy, and others have lost three-quarters of their value.

    Despite readership of newspapers has been declined there is another way people to get information. They not only read news but also share information, expertise, and perspectives with reporters.

    So, internet news becomes new trend of journalism and people think about alternative for news organizations such as a low-profit limited liability corporation, and philanthropically supported institutions.

    After I read Downie and Schudson’s article it seems a non-profit, decentralized, networked structure is possible and is developing. However, I think it is hard to be successful because who really can care about or support so many low-profit news corporations. I think this idea is not enough for future financial model of journalism.

  7. 7 Ryan Murphy February 8, 2010 at 10:37 pm

    Reading through the Downie and Schudson piece, I cannot help but get the feeling that the article is detailing an evacuation plan for journalism, giving all the bastions of journalistic effort a game plan for survival once the news world collapses. What I found particularly interesting was the idea that universities should take in these rogue journalists and give them faculty positions, as members of university ran news stations. Although this idea is surely novel (fantastic even), I find it hard to think that we can count on colleges, institutions that survive on support from endowments and good image, to suddenly become centers of accountability research. Of course, I know I am being a bit pessimistic, but I think this article somewhat builds on pessimism to push through ideas and suggestions. What’s really interesting about this idea though is the concept of students gaining residencies after graduation. This system would make journalism very similar to how other “arts” work in the university setting.

    For The State of the News Media website, I found two of the media trends interesting, and they just happened to be the first and the last. Old news media has largely been more concerned with maintaining the way things are than they have been with finding ways to make the future work. In my opinion, there is not going to be this one magic answer that solves all of our media problems. The Internet gives unlimited options for consumption, so any plans to pigeonhole every consumer of your content into one delivery method is going to be stifling.

    The last trend is what I consider a BIG problem with news today. I recently read a series of article about ‘he said, she said’ journalism, and I think this is the same thing. The main stream media in particular has taken to this “reactive” journalism and realized that it does much better for consumption and community involvement. People are much more willing to leave comments on intense statements on the integrity of a public official, instead of comments on statistics.

    I want to know more about what Obama is doing as President, not about how low he bowed to the server at Red Lobster and how that is the end of American superiority as we know it.

    And yes, I made that up.

  8. 8 Jordyn Davenport February 8, 2010 at 10:51 pm

    A lot of the ideas mentioned in “The Reconstruction of American Journalism” seemed appealing but I feel like picking a place to start is going to be difficult and some of those suggestions aren’t exactly viable. For instance, when they mention universities expanding their reporting it seems they’re ignoring the fact that university news organizations are struggling just as much in this climate as other news organizations, just look at UT! University news organizations will need more money to stay afloat and/or expand, but universities all over the country are cutting budgets. The same goes for giving more money to newspapers with a focus on public affairs or local coverage. In case no one has noticed, the government doesn’t really have any extra money to give right now, no matter how noble the cause.
    Instead of thinking of journalism as some federally funded program I think we should just go back to viewing it as a product. Products are relying increasingly on niche markets. Don’t try to sell your product to everyone, just market it to the people who are likely to buy it. Don’t cram news about every miscellaneous topic on one homepage of a news website. Cover one topic, preferable a somewhat broad one though, and do it well. People will read it if they know it’s going to be relevant to their interests and concerns. This will also appeal to advertisers because they know what the interests are of the site visitors so they know their ads will actually receive consideration.

  9. 9 Kurt Mitschke February 9, 2010 at 12:13 am

    After reading about the Voice of San Diego in “The Reconstruction of American Journalism,” I am convinced that news organizations such as this may provide us with at least a step in the right direction. By focusing on the “key quality of life issues facing the region,” the Voice is cutting out movie reviews, sports and more entertainment related topics to allow more money for government, business, housing, education, health and environment. This is what people really need to know about and what is in jeopardy. I don’t believe that anyone is concerned with the future of sports journalism or entertainment news, because there is so much money already involved in those industries.

    The “State of the News Media 2009” tells us the same thing that we have been hearing all along as young journalists. It does point out, as does the Reconstruction article, that the problem facing American journalism is not fundamentally an audience problem or a credibility problem, but rather it is a revenue problem. If that is the case, then I feel that we won’t fully be able to address the issue until our economy rebounds. Also, it calls on journalists to do so much more than just be writers, but also to be creative in how the market their work to the public.

  10. 10 John Lee February 9, 2010 at 12:20 am

    It seems as if the most common issue being addressed in the past few readings is the decline of the traditional journalism model and what steps are being taken to figure out how news will be investigated/delivered in the new digital age. The concept of a micropayment like that of iTunes introduced in “The Reconstruction of American Journalism” was very intriguing to me. However, after thinking about whether I would find that a suitable option as a news consumer, I decided that I would find a monthly fee for all-access more appealing. So in very simplistic terms, I would think that a standard fee allowing me to feast on a “buffet” of news as opposed to a pay-for-what-you-eat style would be much more preferable.

    Ironically, in “The State of the News Media”, the author writes in the very first bullet point that this model had already been attempted and failed. I had also never once considered the effect of the recession on the already slumping print journalism economy. I enjoyed the author’s analogy of correlating the situation with somebody who was trying to undergo physical therapy after a stroke but then became even more sick. It’s this very feeling of hopelessness that scares me as a journalism student because the very career field which we are studying for is so uncertain. Leonard Downie in The Reconstruction article writes that is going to be the risk-taking journalists that will find the answers in this murky, shaky situation. I wish a clearer, brighter future lay ahead of us but unfortunately times call for us to be pioneers of this new digital, blogospheric age.

  11. 11 emilywatkins February 9, 2010 at 1:26 am

    “State of the News Media 2009” presents a great overview and a list of the major trends in journalism right now. This study raises the issue that “Incrementally, it feels as if the line between unfiltered personal thought and public discourse is evaporating a little more,” and discusses new emerging trends that people should pay attention to.

    I was able to get more out of this article than I did from “The Reconstruction of American Journalism” because this article clearly defines all of the problems within the journalism industry, which business models could maybe work, which one’s could not, and the future of journalists.

    I really liked the first section where the authors discuss financing the new industry. I thought it was really interested that they suggesting adopting a cable model, which is an idea I’ve never really explored. They also suggested building major online retail malls within news sites, which I think could become successful. Magazines are currently starting to directly link readers to consumers and it seems to have raised a lot of attention and curiosity, if nothing else. However, the third idea seems like it could be the most promising. While I think that developing subscription-based niche products for elite professional audiences will greatly restructure the journalism industry, I think it has the most potential in terms of a financial model.

  12. 12 Kyle Carpenter February 9, 2010 at 1:39 am

    I think in Downie and Schudson’s “The Reconstruction of American Journalism,” they make a valid point that it “may not be essential to save any particular news medium, including printed newspapers. What is paramount is preserving independent, original, credible reporting, whether or not it is popular or profitable, and regardless of the medium in which it appears.” I may of course, because of my journalism background, be a bit biased, but I think that the idea of independent research, interviewing, and publishing for the masses a different perspective on the events going on (what they call “Accountability journalism”) is absolutely necessary. I don’t think that it is something that will ever go away however. While journalism didn’t always serve this purpose, as demonstrated in their history, I believe it is something that has become central to the art, and regardless of changes will remain an integral, irreplaceable part.

    Also, in “State of the News Media in 2009” and specifically in regards to financing journalism, I’m interested to see what will happen. If this issue was happening in an economy that wasn’t one of the worst in recent history, I may be more alarmed. Journalism isn’t in the minority of trying to figure out how to make money in this economy. I think in the end, when the solution is figured out, which it will be, journalists and the industry itself will be better off for it. It will force the industry to figure what it excels in, force journalists to hone multiple skills, and will benefit in the end from the opportunities provided from the internet.

  13. 13 Will Anderson February 9, 2010 at 1:42 am

    I’ll start with the first reading, as I am want to do lately and, wow, 17 pages. After finishing, I was struck by some comments that were very critical of the paper’s “woe-is-me, journalism-needs-help” attitude and it occurred to me that that was EXACTLY how I also felt. At first. Downie and Schudson write very early on that it is essential to preserve “independent, original, credible reporting, whether or not it is popular or profitable, and regardless of the medium in which it appears.” This shove-it-down-their-throats mentality really caught me off guard and offended my inherent journalistic pride (as I’m assuming happened to the aforementioned commentators). Let me spit a little philosophy your way. As Karl Marx wrote in the Communist Manifesto:

    “The lower middle class… fight against the bourgeoisie, to save from extinction their existence as fractions of the middle class. They are therefore not revolutionary, but conservative. Nay more, they are reactionary, for they try to roll back the wheel of history.”

    That sounds very familiar to what Downie and Schudson (and others) suggest– not a radical change in the consumption of news, but a gradual shift, a reactionary slide, that instead changes the WAY we consume. E.g. putting the power into the hands of the workers (via freelance journalists and independent blogs, which Pew also mentions later); a greater assimilation of news media giants into one big community for purposes of profit-sharing and information consolidation; less competition through cooperation. A little communistic, is it not?

    Is that such a bad thing? A combination of hyperlocal advertising and municipal subsidization could lead to a futuristic scenario like this: every day, during your morning commute, you turn on your Tablet PC and dial into your local news station’s RSS/FaceSpace/MyBook/Twitt-feed to get info that really matters to you (local crime, any great lunch deals, plus maybe a preview of the Zero-G basketball game on that evening).

    I think the subsidization model is completely feasible when you rationalize it with Eric Newton’s (Knight Foundation president) idea that, “local news needs local support.”

    Onto the second piece, which was last year’s State of the News Media from Pew. I have browsed Pew’s SoNW reports in the past, and this one, like all the others, is pure leisure reading. Actually, it’s dark as ever, if not darker, but altogether sensible in its breakdown of the shortfalls of the modern news corporations. However, when they mention the “cable model” in the first section of the Major Trends page, you know they are slightly off base. The cable model works because those companies hold a relative monopoly on what users can get on their TV sets. That problem has never and will never exist on the computer, where users have a near infinite number of sources. As previously mentioned in the class, information/news is not a scarce resource in the digital age and if you try to horde it you will be passed by. Also, cable news and the 24-hour cycle represents all the blowhole, ideological punditry that is wrong with the media today. You messed up big time there, Pew. You’re better off with the retail or subscription models, which I like.

    Also, I was surprised by the statistics about less active presses and felt it backed up the assumption mentioned by Downie and Schudson– when newspaper ad revenue dries up, the first thing to get cut is the news/enterprise reporting budget. Sad, sad stuff.

  14. 14 Doug Luippold February 9, 2010 at 1:45 am

    It is Interesting how, with all the talk about the decline in objective journalism, newspapers in the United States primarily contained editorials and very partisan reporting up until around the last century. Then, newspapers became essentially owned by corporations, which had tight control over the information flow. It almost seems like the newspaper and media industry whose failure everyone is decrying, was actually the exception to the rule, a short blip of integrity in an otherwise biased and corporate industry.

    Also, the notion of newspapers as nonprofits seems odd to me. It primarily seems strange because, well, it means newspapers couldn’t make a profit. I know it is more complicated than that, but just the idea that newspapers shift from a business to public service would be disappointing, because it implies it is impossible for an enterprise to successfully be both.

    I liked the discussion about the Seattle Times and how its editors oversee blog posts. This seems like it has potential, because it allows journalists to use their unique skill set that they worked hard to obtain, and also utilizes the energy and vastness of citizen journalism.

  15. 15 Hannah February 9, 2010 at 2:25 am

    I’m sorry, but 17 pages on the current state of journalism is a little too much. I’ve been seeing a lot of talk about what is happening, but not a whole lot of practical suggestions. We can sit and discuss all we want, but that won’t get us anywhere. The state of the media article talked about how journalism is honing in on only a few (popular) possible solutions (micro-payments, for example) while failing to explore further options and think outside the box. I agree with this entirely, but unfortunately, I think that answer will be no less difficult to find.

    I do like how the first article talks about participatory journalism on page 1. I mentioned something like that in class already, about how I think it’s fascinating how journalists can now gather information from many different places, including the people they’re trying to reach. Page 9 goes for a broader look at the same thing, describing how groups with small staff (The Drudge Report, Huffington Post, etc.) rely on links to outside Web sites, freelancers and other outside sources as well. I think they’re hitting on something very important that could save money for news organizations and also offer a broader base than ever before.

  16. 16 Yolande Yip February 9, 2010 at 4:18 am

    Last class we were told that when (if) we’re hired by a news organization, we are supposed to supply the answers about where everything is going to end up, how we need to have suggestions on hand. At the time, I drew a blank. However, I think the Downie/Schudson piece really helped me think about the possibilities for journalism.

    To start off, I’d just like to say I really appreciated the history they incorporated. It’s always important to take into account how we got here in order to see where we will end up.

    An overall important theme seems to be that of collaboration. Even the major trends of the State of the News Media partnership as “becoming a major focus of news investment [which] may offer prospects for the financial future of news.” Collaborating and sharing copy will free up staff to do more local reporting. Also, I think allowing the public to contribute stories or information online, information which journalists may otherwise have no access to, would also be beneficial. A staff member/fleet of interns/university journalist students could be in charge of fact checking and verifying sources to preserve the credibility of the organization.

    Another key part of the 17 pages spoke of hybridization, which I agree with. We won’t find one way which will make everything work out, but by experimenting with combinations of funding sources–donations, government subsidy, advertising, micro payments, etc.–we may very likely find a combination that will help turn around this debacle of lack of revenue, which is a main problem with the current state of journalism.

    They also mention changing news orgs to nonprofits and LLCs, which I also agree could be beneficial; however, changing government policy takes lots of time, which the industry really doesn’t have.

    The main issue, I believe, is the mindset of the industry. As incredible as it is, not everyone has accepted that changes need to be made, and they need to be implemented now. Until then, I don’t think there will be any near-future improvement.

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February 2010

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