Future models for news: What comes next?

We’re now finishing our brief tour through the “new models for news” terrain. Remember that when I say “models” I’m doing it in the broadest sense: we can be talking about business/revenue models (i.e., models of subsidy) … or “news assembly” models, how journalism gets put together (e.g., via pro-am collaborations) … or even models of thinking that question traditional assumptions of what is journalism, anyway, and how it’s most effectively accomplished in the digital realm.

We’ve covered just a little territory here—enough to prep you for the midterm, at least!—but I hope this final reading will round out our perspective: it’s “The Big Thaw,” a report that came out just a few months ago by the Media Consortium, which supports independent media groups. I’d like you to read the executive summary, then Vol. 1 (which gets back to the “how did we get here?” question, but with excellent insight) and finally Vol. 3.

As students today, what do you need to know and do in order to build a better journalism for the 21st century? Reflect on that question as you read. Then, in the comments section, try to sum up your own appraisal of the future.

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16 Responses to “Future models for news: What comes next?”


  1. 1 Donnie Hogan February 13, 2010 at 11:44 am

    The more we read in this class, the more I agree with Shirky’s prediction that it’s going to get worse before it gets better. We continue to go over all of these different models over and over again, and every time I think one might work, I quickly realize several reasons why it won’t.
    While reading “The Big Thaw”, I realized something else. I think we’re missing the point. Everyone is getting so wrapped up in new technologies and these new models and their possibilities. I think the main problem is the American people just don’t care about the news. Disasters happen (9/11, Iran, Haiti) and their interest in the news spikes, but only for a few days. Then it’s back to sports, entertainment, etc. None of these models are going to work if people don’t give a damn about actual news.
    News is in need of a drastic image transformation. I don’t know how you change it. Maybe we should focus more on news in grade school when children are young. Maybe news is in need of a monumental PR campaign to make keeping up with the news “cool” again. I don’t know. I’m just saying in the public eye, it’s not right now, and as more generations pass, youth care less and less about the news.
    Maybe people will care if investigative journalism all but dies and all levels of gov’t revert back to corruption like Shirky explained in the reading. Maybe that will be the ultimate disaster that gets them interested in the news again.
    My point is that the focus shouldn’t be on all of these models. They’re cool and interesting, but they’re not going to make a difference if we don’t change the public’s lack of interest in actual news.
    At the end of the reading they asked “Do Americans view journalism as a public good that is critical to our country’s intellectual infrastructure and that our democracy depends on it?” My answer is not necessarily a profound no. My answer is the idea that they just don’t care, and that may be worse for journalism.

  2. 2 Holly MacRossin February 15, 2010 at 10:35 am

    As a journalist going into the unknown future of this profession, I definitely have a few things in mind when it comes to what I should know. It’s all about the Internet and everything you can pack into that. I’m talking about audio, visual, podcasts, live interviews, statistics, etc. And not only that, I will need the skills to help me accomplish these things- html, blogging, AP style, basic writing skills, CMS and on and on.

    As far as what is to come, I am basically foreseeing a future comparable to what is written in this report. From business models to actual conceptual models for presenting material that will actually work. I think most everything will be digitized for starters. There will also be non-profits and cooperative models as well. What can’t be determined now however, is what will work. You can only be prepared I suppose.

    I also have a feeling that newspapers may be around a little longer than we think. There is a surprisingly big group of people who are devote readers and rely on newspapers. What will people without smart phones and computers read if newspapers are banished?

    I also agree with Donnie’s post about people needing to be more interested in the news in the first place. If nobody cares what is happening in their own town, and much less across the world, then why does it matter the way we present it to them. Will they even read it? I wonder what it will take to get a majority of the population to see the importance of journalists as the watchdogs for their community.

  3. 3 Jordyn Davenport February 15, 2010 at 9:45 pm

    As a journalism student I feel like I need to know everything, like Holly said. We need to know how to write news stories well which means AP style, grammar, and the conventions of journalism, as well as how to use social media effectively, how to blog, make videos, and maintain a sense of community with our audience. It seems like everything we read is telling us that the most important thing we need to learn how to do is take risks. No one knows what exactly is going to happen because you can’t yet differentiate between what’s just a fleeting trend and what’s here to stay so we need to know how to change strategies and how to do it quickly.
    It seems like a lot of what will be crucial for the industry is leverage. Every news organization needs something that people want, preferably something people want more than what the other guys have. I’m not sure if the problem is that journalists aren’t sure yet of what specific thing they have that people want because it’s not just plain old information (that’s everywhere) or if they don’t know how to get people to want it. I guess there will eventually be a breaking point when investigative analytical journalism becomes a scarcity and people actually notice it and then the journalists will have a bit of power again. But if people just don’t care about the news then journalists will never regain any leverage. I took a UGS class last year called New Media for Young Voters and unfortunately we spent the first half of the semester learning our generation simply does not care to read/watch/listen to the news.

  4. 4 katiemyung February 15, 2010 at 11:17 pm

    It is obvious that in the near future, journalism is much more different from current form of journalism. Old media had a historical responsibility as watchdog, and their physical distribution limits enabled media companies to create and maintain a competitive advantage in the old model.

    However, technological innovations have been changing the media outlets. Mobile devices are transforming our relationships with people, events and places. More important thing is that the product of journalism is no longer content, but community. So, media organizations have created platforms for users to participate in the journalistic process. It becomes possible that everyone can gather, share and produce news, and it will make people are more interactive while they build their own online communities.

    Researchers have studied about how the media industry will look in coming years, and we know that media outlets will be changed by technology which will continue to affect the media.

    However, we are still unsure about the future journalism. Also, the readings that we have read so far tell us that we have lots of things to know, like Jordyn and Holly said. We have to know not only old media’s role but also new style of journalism. It looks like making us harder to prepare for future journalists, but it is one of the ways that we can handle uncertain future journalism.

  5. 5 Will Anderson February 16, 2010 at 12:09 am

    Here’s what I got from the reading: I really liked TMC’s explanation of collective journalism. It has been mentioned in class before but not to this extent. If we realize that news budgets are the first thing to be cut when ad revenues decrease, but also that independent news reporting is the fundamental cornerstone of advocacy journalism, then perhaps it is a burden best shared amongst the journalistic collective (or subsidized by a non-profit model). It makes sense that journalism’s most important role be removed from the older profit-driven model.

    In the third volume, John Bracken asks: “Will people looking for serious news be able to find it? What happens to news that is unpopular, long or complex, will such reports be passed along as well?” This is where cooperative and non-profit journalism can step in.

    Volume 3 also speaks to the limitations of such models, but I believe as consumers adjust the ways they take in news they will be able to accept that journalism is a civic responsibility that deserves equal civil support.

    One of the most disheartening scenarios in the entire report occurred to me when I read Dana Milbank’s recounting of the HJC’s newspaper meeting for WaPo: “Ideologues of the left and right right made no effort to conceal their yearning for a day without journalists.” Perhaps this is why public support for Congress is at an all-time low. Lawmakers should understand that accountability and transparency are the only ways to regain voter trust (sorry, little rant, but sort of related to the need for advocacy journalism).

  6. 6 akgenuske February 16, 2010 at 12:28 am

    I enjoyed reading “The Big Thaw” because it did round out the discussions we’ve had the past few weeks, as Professor Lewis said. It is an easy read that makes a lot of the valid points that we keep talking about, but in a clear and concise way.

    On page 9 there is a Strategic Dissonance Model that demonstrates the amount of time and the amount of growth an industry has before it reaches a realization that there is a need for change. Basically, there is a gap known as strategic dissonance where the tension created can help assist in the creation of a new paradigm instead of being “ruled by a tyranny of how they believe things still ‘should be.'” This is the basic idea for the rest of “The Big Thaw.” This is where the industry is right now, no doubt. What will it take to break free of the tyranny? Of the “should” of old media? One of the best options discussed is experimentation. This is where our generation of journalists come in with innovative and inspiring ideas. This is also a very optimistic idea, but one that needs to be explored nonetheless.

    This will probably not be one of the questions asked in class but one that is interesting to me is, “What will happen to paper?” Although I get my news online, I can’t imagine reading my favorite books and magazines anywhere else other than on paper. I can’t imagine having to buy a Kindle to have access to my books and magazines. Although, it probably would be more cost-effective in the end.

  7. 7 danicwilson February 16, 2010 at 1:47 am

    I think that “The Big Thaw” was a good read for this point in the semester, and it really boiled down some of the theories we have been talking about the past few weeks. Although many of the statistics and anecdotes were less than positive, I still can’t help but be optimistic about the future of journalism. When any industry has a major change to its structure, cultural nuances or economic model, it is sure to be a bumpy transition. I don’t know why people expect journalism as an industry to come up with one quick answer to the current issues facing us, and it’s the little experiments and innovations that are already changing things, slowly but surely.

    The Big Thaw executive summary says, “Although many see this moment as a meltdown, it is an opportunity.” I definitely agree with that sentiment. As Seth said in class, people expect us as students and recent graduates to have the answers, and who’s to say we don’t have some of them already? We need to not only have the writing and technical skills to succeed in this field, but also a cultural understanding of what journalism can be with new technologies, mediums and audiences. We’re already ahead of many people in the newsroom who are still reluctant to embrace this new culture and see all of the unique possibilities and opportunities that the digital age has to offer.

  8. 8 Kurt Mitschke February 16, 2010 at 2:05 am

    In response to what do we need to know as journalists in the 21st century, I completely agree with some of the people who posted earlier. We need to know how to do everything. We need the basic “old school” investigative journalism skills including reporting, writing and AP style but also we need to have a thorough knowledge of the Web, computer software and social media. We also have to possess the versatility to photograph, shoot video, record audio and be able to put these together into attractive multimedia packages for the readers to interact with.

    To me, it seems that the real big issue hear is that we don’t know which trends will last, and which ones are, well, just trends. The reading mentioned Moore’s Law, which states basically that computer technologies will double in speed, size and performance every two years. This is the first time I ever heard of Moore’s Law, but I have heard things similar to that. If this is the case, then almost all of these will be trends, and constantly changing just like technology. Honestly, think about it. Do you believe that Facebook and Twitter will be around in five years? I’m not sure what their role will be at that time in the future. For example, Myspace was huge in when I was in high school, but now it seems that it has fallen off of the face of the earth.

    Another issue, is that often times when we find out about something it is often too late to react. That makes me believe that we need to create the future, experiment and try as many ideas and see how people react to them rather than us having to react to what they want. We are the future. We not only have to move at the same speed that technology is moving, but possibly faster. We need to be innovative and create new ideas, even if that means scrapping old ideas and working from scratch.

  9. 9 Sean Beherec February 16, 2010 at 3:16 am

    The most interesting thing I gathered from this reading, which definitely did tie together the concepts we’ve been discussing, is the emphasis put on doing something new with journalism.

    Vol. 3 focuses on the changing world of news, from Kindles to online news sites. I don’t think it’d be a terrible idea if journalists did abandon all they know right now and moved on to something new.

    The whole concept of “should” in exposing different viewpoints and ideas to the audience of readers could easily be seen as one of the out-of-date ideas that will sink journalism. I agree with Weinberger’s claims that not every reader will seek out an opposite opinion than they’re own, which may be good for journalism.

    So-called “objective” journalism is a relatively new concept in the timeline of the written word. I think it might be a noble, though outdated, idea that may need revisions in the 21st century. The readership has shown it’s growing tired of the product, and it’s time to try something new.

    Although partisan news organizations are a scary concept, investigate journalism for a particular cause is not necessarily a bad thing. The Texas Observer has been doing such reporting for years, and the state is probably better for it. No one can be 100 percent objective, so constantly straining to keep that model (and all the others) in this time of evolution, is a crazy idea.

  10. 10 Hannah February 16, 2010 at 3:57 am

    “The Big Thaw,” as with nearly everything else we’ve been reading, is full of “last words” and journalism’s eulogy. But I completely agree that as journalists, we need to grasp a broader idea of what that term means, both in theory and at the workplace. A journalist isn’t just someone who goes out on assignment, reports, comes back, writes a story and leaves anymore. Today’s journalist must find the most relevant news, gather everything one could possibly know about the situation, compile it all, analyze and narrow it down and then produce it for the public on every medium known to man.

    This in turn brings up the whole idea of the watchdog function again, though. If we run after social media and find information “where the people are,” shifting from what’s relevant to what’s the most popular to Tweet about, many things could be allowed to slip by that never would have under journalism’s traditional role of the watchdog. I think that if journalists focus on niches, and the public (and journalists) relearn what the purpose of journalism is, journalism can surge ahead in the sea of information. When people hear about news stories through Twitter or Facebook, they don’t immediately rush to Wikipedia or a friend’s blog. Generally, they rush to The New York Times Web site, or some other news group, to find out what really happened and to actually inform themselves. The industry shouldn’t give up yet. It just needs to learn to better utilize its strengths and to let go of its old, dusty weaknesses.

  11. 11 John Lee February 16, 2010 at 4:50 am

    While there isn’t the greatest sense of optimism in the journalism career field right now, I sense the same feeling of great potential expressed in “The Big Thaw”. In an age where news is now disseminated through the wireless transmissions of our “smartphones” via Twitter and Facebook, the demographics of the users of these applications and platforms is the much younger generation that has oft been criticized for not being involved enough in the news and government. This may be a sign of change as the torch of news is finally being handed off to the younger generation.

    While there is the general consensus that a digitization age looms, I believe that the need for “traditional” journalism exists in the sense that “bloggers” and the average citizen cannot perform the same functions as served by traditional journalists today. Functions such as investigative journalism or access to areas that are only reserved for media access. The most important function of course is the watchdog function. Newspapers keep our government in check and accountable yet I highly doubt your average “Tweet-er” will want to bother reporting on a city hall meeting. We often forget the behind-the-scenes tasks that our newspapers perform but I’d hate to see us only remember when all memory of these journalists have been erased in place of the age of bloggers and tweeters.

  12. 12 Patricia Rodriguez February 16, 2010 at 6:12 am

    One of the things I have noticed about a majority of the readings of this semester is the underlying and subtle pessimism of the future of news. It is a transformative time and the changes we are looking are interesting and exciting, but like Shirkey said and Donnie has again pointed out: it is going to get worse before it gets better. Also, I feel the majority of the reading we have done have concentrated on the models of the news: profit-making models, news content models, etc. I don’t know that people are asking the questions of the new consumer. Do we care enough about the news to preserve the news paper? Do we care enough about news to possibly pay for professionally delivered content online? Sure, the news environment has changed but the news consumer has changed as well and I have not been convinced that there is evidence there to claim that the news business will ever be a money maker like it was before.

    However, a conclusion of The Big Thaw, as well as some other readings we have done this summer has dealt with “getting back to the basics” with journalism to preserve the art of what journalists do. The consensus has been that the kind of information we provide cannot be provided by just anyone with a computer on a random blog. The information journalists provide has been fact checked and rechecked and delivered in a structured, professional manner. Is this still possible to be done without a newspaper? If news outlets have to rely on online mediums how are they supposed to survive? Can they remain separate from the scores of blogs and faux-news sites that do not bring the professionalism to information dissemination that journalism does? Sure, this information age is an opportunity to do some great things with the newspaper and journalism in general, but not all opportunities will produce positive results. Yes, it is going to get worse before it gets better.

  13. 13 Emily February 16, 2010 at 6:20 am

    As a journalism student today I feel like we need to understand that it’s going to get worse before it gets better, but many great opportunities lie ahead. I think the future of news is going to center around the Internet and other more advanced technology, making news become more of a two-way communication model with readers. “The Big Thaw” suggests that “Media organizations must create platforms for users to participate in the journalistic process, work with each other on projects and build their own online communities independent of publishers.” I also think smaller niche publications will continuously become more popular with consumers, as they can offer readers with more news on topics they want to read about.

    In “The Big Thaw” he says, “Industry leaders are unsure how consumers will act, which trends will last, whether online media is helping or hurting our democracy and how the biggest players will affect the game.” I think this is important to keep in mind while considering the future of journalism, and I think some of his best advice is to “expect the unexpected.” As a student, I realize that most of these trends are in their early stages and while they haven’t yet made significant changes to journalism, many of them will.

  14. 14 Yolande Yip February 16, 2010 at 7:42 am

    The Big Thaw was a very interesting read; however, as many others have said, there are still very many things we just don’t know and cannot predict about the future of journalism.

    And as Donnie said, I think that changing peoples’ mindsets is one of the most crucial problems.

    In vol. 1, p. 11, Donella Meadows is quoted as saying that the second most powerful “leverage points” to changing a system is “changing the mindset or paradigm out of which the system… arises.”

    If the heads of newspapers and the people who are trying to find solutions to the current problem don’t change their mindsets on how news “should” work, then we are not going to solve anything.

    Then in vol. 3, p. 4, it says, “people are more likely to sort themselves into enclaves and niches online.”

    How will we reach these niched people? With increasing homogeneity and less people willing to read diverging viewpoints, news will just splinter and get even more fragmented.

  15. 15 Doug Luippold February 16, 2010 at 8:03 am

    To build up a better future for journalism we need to focus on communities, learn some history, and step down from the watchtower.

    The strategy “building audience as communities” jumped out at me in the Executive Summary. People are communal and social,and always will be, and journalists predicate their work on this presumption. This could mean developing a business model around a niche interest, or focusing on the physical community, like a small town. I think the future of journalism definitely lies in a more localized approach. While anybody with a computer an phone line can write about what President Obama needs to do, or what happened on the last episode of lost, only a few can write about what is happening in a specific town. Carrollton, my hometown, is a good example. Carrollton is a suburb of Dallas, with about 150,000 residents. Only a few people would be writing about what is happening with the local school board, city politics, local business and other personal issues. People will respond to local news because it impacts them. So first, we need to narrow our scope.

    “If railroads had focused on customers instead of products, they have have realized they were in the transportation business, not the railroad business” – As revolutionary as the internet is, history repeats itself. While comparisons between the internet and printing press have been beaten to death, they are still valid. From domesticating animals to the industrial revolution, business is the constant evolution and adaptation to new technology. As journalists, we need to study how successful and unsuccessful businesses dealt with the exposition of new technologies, and use that as our baseline.

    Finally, as journalism students, we need to realize we no longer reside in the “watchtower” like our predecessors. Journalists do not have a monopoly on scrutiny or research anymore. With this in mind, journalism students should consider why they want to enter the field. If it is to be smartest, most informed person in the room, while there is certainly nothing wrong with that, journalism is not that job anymore. I am not presumptuous enough to suggest what a person should or should not do, but journalism is now, more than ever before, about telling a compelling story. Telling a story, having a unique voice, and sharing your own thoughts is something so personal, that anybody can do it. To me, the future of journalism lies in story crafting.

  16. 16 Ryan Murphy February 16, 2010 at 11:14 am

    Well, jumping on the band wagon like everyone else, I felt like this really summed up everything we have been discussing this semester so far.

    What stuck to me (and I think we either spoke about this before, or I did in another class), was the concept of media outlets having to choose what direction they wanted to go. Does Rolling Stone keep up with the crowd that made them famous, or adjust to the new batch of people who are entering the age group they began with? It is an interesting concept, and one I think, for the Rolling Stone (who choose to ride along with their fans) will end up not looking pretty at the end.

    I read through the other comments, and I do not agree that the problem is the people. As journalists, we cannot sit on that “watchtower” and scoff at our readers for not “getting it.” That’s why papers are falling left and right, the mentality that if we could “just get those crazy kids to care about the news, maybe they’ll come around.”

    No. The American people do care about news; they just don’t care to keep consuming it the way their grandparents did. Every flash of brilliance in the journalism world today only reminds everyone of how outdated the old models are, and with each reminder, the stake is driven in just a little bit deeper. Right now, the only things appealing to that freshness are the entertainment outlets who thrive on that instantaneous, earth-shattering sort of release of information that people enjoy.

    Do I think that the Wall Street Journal and New York Times should start operating more like TMZ? Of course not (although it would be hilarious). But they need to get in touch with their communities. Or, even better, smaller, more personal, outlets need to do it before them, cause I have feeling they would blow them out of the water.


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