There’s been a lot of debate lately about the future of newspapers, the future of TV, the future of radio — the future of journalism itself — in the face of drastic change brought by technology and the Internet. I’ve asked MediaShift readers whether they thought journalism’s metaphorical cup was half empty or half full and most people saw a pretty bright future.
As you might imagine, I share their enthusiasm for the future, and wouldn’t be writing this blog if I didn’t believe we will end up in a better place. But I’m also a hardened realist and natural skeptic, and I know there are painful months and years ahead for the (dwindling number of) people working in traditional media. Not everything new and shiny will be good for us, and there are plenty of ethical and technological pitfalls ahead.
But rather than dwell on the negative, rail against change, or damn the upstarts at Google and Craigslist, I’d like to take a walk on the sunny side of life in new media, consider the positive aspects of all that is happening, and how we could end up in a renaissance era for journalism. While I do believe large media companies will have the most difficult time adapting to the changes, they can learn a lot from the successful business models of smaller sites such as TMZ or The Smoking Gun (both owned by media companies).
10 Reasons There’s a Bright Future for Journalism
1. More access to more journalism worldwide. One of the undersung advantages of the Internet is that it gives us access to content from newspapers, TV channels, blogs and podcasts from around the world. No longer are we limited to our local media for news of the world. Now we can go directly to that corner of the world to get a local angle from far away. No one has figured out how to sell advertising that would be relevant to all those international readers, but that doesn’t mean they won’t figure it out eventually.
2. Aggregation and personalization satisfies readers. Tired of being programmed to, we now have the tools online to program our own media experience. Whether that’s through Google News or personalizing My Yahoo or an RSS newsfeed reader, we can get quick access to the media outlets and journalism we want on one web page. Some newspaper executives have railed against Google News, but the vast majority are working on their own ways of aggregating content from other sources or offering up personalized versions of their sites (see mywashingtonpost.com). It’s a more open way of doing journalism than saying “we have all the answers here.”
3. Digital delivery offers more ways to reach people. Before the web became popular, traditional media offered up just one way to get their content — in a print publication, by watching TV or listening to the radio. Now you can get their content online, in email newsletters, on your mobile phone and in any way that digital bits and bytes can be delivered. That’s journalism unbound from traditional format constraints.
4. There are more fact-checkers than ever in the history of journalism. Maybe it’s true that professional fact-checking has taken a big hit in the layoffs at mainstream media outlets, but it’s also true that bloggers and free-thinkers online have provided an important check and balance to reporting. They might have an axe to grind or a political bias, but if they uncover shoddy reporting, plagiarism or false sourcing, it’s a good thing for journalists and the public.
5. Collaborative investigations between pro and amateur journalists. The Internet allows ad-hoc investigations to take place between professional reporters and amateur sleuths. The Sunlight Foundation gave tools to citizen journalists so they could help find out which members of U.S. Congress were employing their spouses. The Los Angeles Times and various amateur investigators worked together to unmask the LonelyGirl15 video actress as Jessica Rose. Many more of these collaborative investigations are possible thanks to easy communication online and experiments such as NewAssignment.net.
6. More voices are part of the news conversation. In the past, if you wanted to voice your opinion, correct a fact or do your own reporting, you had to work at a mainstream news organization. Now, thanks to the rising influence of independent bloggers and online journalists, there are more outsiders and experts exerting influence over the news agenda. Not only does that mean we have a more diverse constellation of views, but it also takes the concentrated agenda-setting power out of a few hallowed editorial boardrooms.
7. Greater transparency and a more personal tone. Thanks to blogs and the great wide pastures of the web, reporters can go onto media websites and explain their conflicts of interest in greater detail, leading to more transparency. Plus, online writing tends to be more personal, giving reporters, editors and news anchors the chance to be more human and connect with their audience in deeper ways.
8. Growing advertising revenues online. While old-line media people complain that online ads aren’t bringing in enough revenues to replace what’s lost in the transition from the old advertising formats, that doesn’t mean all is lost. Almost every forecast for online advertising shows double-digit percentage increases in revenues over the next five years, and it’s hard to believe none of that will trickle down to media companies. What might well happen is that media concentration will lessen, and more of the revenues will be spread out to smaller independent sites than just the big conglomerates.
9. An online shift from print could improve our environmental impact. Very few people consider just how much our love for print newspapers and magazines harms the environment. It’s true that publishers are trying to use more recycled paper, but use of online media has a much less drastic ecological impact. Choosing online over print actually saves trees, which in turn means that media companies that transition wisely could be helping to reduce global warming. Many people expect that some type of reusable, flexible e-ink readers will eventually replace ink-on-dead-tree publications.
10. Stories never end. Perhaps one of the weakest points about traditional journalism is that there’s rarely any follow-ups on big stories. It usually takes a professional reporter having to go back and report what’s happened since the big story. But online, stories can live on for much longer in flexible formats, allowing people to update them in comments or add more facts as they happen. Wikinews is one example of user-generated news stories that can be updated and edited by anyone.
What do you think? What other reasons do you think journalism has a bright future ahead? Or are you a techno-pessimist who thinks none of this will presage better days for journalism? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Photo titled (appropriately) “A Path Through Darkness Often Leads to a Brighter Future” by Brian via Flickr.
Note: MediaShift will be on summer vacation the week of July 2, and will return to normal posting again on Monday, July 9. We hope you all will enjoy some time off from your techno-toil during the holiday week.