News Is A Product I Believe In

by | Mar 28, 2008

Let’s talk some more about newspapers and their primary challenger, the internet.

Stowe Boyd, a social web application designer and developer, has some provocative things to say about the situation.

I still read the thinner and thinner New York Times regularly, but less of us do that everyday. And online, there is a brave new world, where I am learning more about what’s going on through Twitter, blogs, and an increasingly social web than could ever be confined in a few dozen pages of newsprint.

I left a comment on his site that says I’m shocked. For sure, I “learn” what some pretty smart people are thinking and doing via Twitter and blogs, but the mainstream media, particularly our nation’s best newspapers, helps me learn what’s going on in my community, country and world. Two different types of learning.

Boyd’s comments were made in response to David Carr’s New York Times opinion piece about newspaper owners struggling to cope.

Newspapers continue to gain on the Web in part because they have the best talent, the biggest news hole and the most comprehensive coverage. But that value, which gave many papers their near-monopoly, could be wiped out by a sustained downturn.

Boyd does’t care for Carr’s comments about talent. He says, “it is ridiculous to assert that the folks scribbling madly for the companies that are falling into the abyss right before our eyes are somehow to be judged as ‘the best talent’.” But it’s an interesting question. Take the 1000 best bloggers, whatever best means to you, and compare them to the 1000 best mainstream journalists working today. Which side has more firepower? For me, that’s easy. MSM has the edge. “Real journalists” have the background, the sources, the discipline to fact check and copy edit and the benefit of face-to-face support from their peers in the profession.

If the guy down the proverbial blog street has some news to offer, I’m going to listen. But I’m not going to count on him for that news. Not like I count on a community newspaper. Newspapers need to survive. Maybe they don’t make the margins they came to expect in the past, but they need to be profitable so they can invest in their people and their product. Why do I care? Because a high quality news product, like clean energy or health care for all, is something our nation desperately needs.

None of this is meant to say I don’t prefer reading some blogs over MSM. I do. And I’d like to see these bloggers make a living at what they do best. Hell, I’d like to make a living at what I do best. Who wouldn’t? My point is this: disruption creates opportunity. Where there is destruction, there is rebirth. The media business is struggling to find its way. To me, this means anyone with the necessary skills, the right outlook and some pertinent answers has a chance at a rewarding career in media today. Whether that media is produced in a Manhattan skyscraper or in someone’s spare bedroom doesn’t matter. Quality matters. Transparency matters. Collaboration with the community matters.

I think it’s clear that both sides are learning from one another. MSM does quality better, but social media practitioners are good at transparency and community building. This whole thing boils down to the fact that newspapers, like pro and semi-pro bloggers, need to find a way to make money on the web. Advertising, subscriptions, content licensing and whatever else anyone can think of is what’s needed. We need a professional class of writers, photographers and multimedia makers.

Moving forward, the media business will encompass all. Petty distinctions–like who is a real journalist?–will fade. It’s already happening. MSM is embracing social media and prominent bloggers are fast becoming media company owners. Today, you’re a real journalist if you cover a beat consistently, honestly and professionally.