The Rebirth of Journalism?

Posted: July 22, 2010 in Consumer Power, Content, Digital Media, Innovation, Newspapers

The good news is that we’re starting to see a resurgence in journalism. There are new jobs, stories about fanatic reporters who behave like junkyard dogs in search of exclusives and there are new journalistic businesses being started every day.

The bad news? Well, there’s some of that, too. The bad news is that almost none of those examples are happening at our traditional news businesses.

It’s time the newspapers start to focus on what is rapidly becoming the main reason their livelihood is threatened. They need to put out better products. No matter what the impact of technology or changing advertising habits, the sad truth is that Digital journalists are clearly working harder and getting better at what they do: reporting and writing. Many are emerging as the best on their beats and several companies are hiring and advancing them in rapidly growing numbers.

There have been several volleys in the old vs new media debate this past week that started with a New York Times piece decrying the difficult “conditions” leading to early burn out of digital journalists. The idea that a traditional newspaper would accuse its competitors of working too hard, was met with a round of smirks in the digital world and, in a classic new media response, a barrage of comments, postings, blog items and emails pointing out that the existing business is making excuses for the fact that its own journalists have lost their edge.

Meanwhile the Newspaper industry continues to hurt itself by cutting cut costs across the board, including content creation. Gradually, column inch by column inch, the newspaper business is conceding one area of coverage after another to it’s Digital competition. They must understand soon, that they need to invest in their product or risk having their audience taken away by, well, better product.

The signs are everywhere.

The New York Times magazine acknowledged that the one must-read political column isn’t a column at all, it’s the daily morning tip sheet emanating from Politico.com. And it’s not because it’s delivered digitally, it’s because the content is better and more entertaining than any competitor, new or old.

In the world of financial coverage, my old site MarketWatch.com emerged a decade ago to take considerable market share from Newspaper financial pages. We did it by breaking news day in and day out. In recent months and years, the shift to online financial advice sites like Seeking Alpha as well as straight news sources like Wall Street Journal’s wsj.com, Bloomberg,com, Reuters.com and others have joined Marketwatch with huge audiences for real-time financial news.

In the area of Sports news, several web sites and bloggers have taken readership and mindshare from the print dudes, even those that are also on the web. ESPN has opened local sites in Boston, New York and Chicago, stealing large numbers of digital viewers from the internet editions of the local papers and from the papers themselves. And several digital journalists, like Yahoo News NBA writer Adrian Wojnarowski have risen to the top of their journalistic profession, platform aside. He’s simply the best NBA beat reporter in the country.

Celebrity news and gossip, are seing the same story: several new sites have stolen the thunder from their dead-tree predecessors. Upstart RadarOnline.com has taken advantage of a relentless staff to own the Mel Gibson story, releasing new tapes every day, totally outplaying any competitors. It was a scoop based on good old fashioned beat reporting.

Local News has always been the strength of the better newspapers. But even that franchise is now in danger. Suddenly AOL is hiring hundreds of new young reporters for it’s local editions. And in every major city new digital-based news organizations are sprouting up — some funded with public contributions– trying to capture local readers with news “relevant” to them. Gradually, if the newspapers don’t begin to improve their journalism, they will find themselves obsolete.

Comments
  1. Bruce Apar says:

    Good angle, Larry. I’m publisher of a community weekly in Northern Westchester and we just relaunched our website. Our staff is being remediated from weekly to daily mindset and workflow. AOL’s Patch is in our hometown and — pun both intended and apropos — it is a patchwork of local content, but very fluffy. In fact, for recent coverage of a teen’s accidental death, its coverage was not only a veritable patchwork of info from other media sources but was precariously close to that other “P word that is anathema in any form of writing endeavor. I know because I recognized some of my own precise phrases from a blog I wrote in their coverage. (The Patch editor actually called me for a quote, based on my connection to the deceased, but so did the local Gannett daily, The Journal News, which in folio size is disappearing each day right before our eyes, and which made sure not to identify me by title). Just like any newspaper extant — daily, weekly or otherwise — that doesn’t have a vibrant online presence is ringing its own death knell, any pureplay community news website that doesn’t have a print component runs the risk of emulating the fallen tree in the forest that nobody hears. Print is far from dead; it’s just waiting to be reincarnated in an iteration that accommodates the digital dynamic that drives modern existence.

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