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    Saving Journalism, One Idea at a Time

    by Dan Gillmor
    June 11, 2009

    True/Slant’s hybrid model (reporters find their own advertising sponsors) will save journalism! Or not.

    The Huffington Post is creating tomorrow’s business model for journalism! Or not…

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    Northwestern University’s “computer nerds” will save journalism! Really?

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    Ultra-cheap netbooks could save the media industry! Umm…

    Journalism Online LLC will save newspapers (!) by helping them charge for what they’ve been essentially giving away for 50 years. Could be.

    The iPhone will revolutionize mobile journalism! Or not.

    The recent panic over the demise of newspapers has led to a predictable flurry of omigod, now-what speculation. We’re being treated to one hype-filled piece after another about this or that startup or project that has the potential to save, revolutionize or do something really, really special to move us into the future of news and information.

    Let’s take a deep breath, calm down and understand what’s going on here. There’s no way of knowing which of these worthy enterprises, products and projects — and hundreds or thousands more like them that already exist or will soon — will be around in a decade. The fact of their existence is what’s exciting, not their individual prospects.

    We’ve become accustomed to a media world dominated by monopolies and oligopolies. So we — and especially the paid journalists who remain in the craft — tend to imagine that just a few big institutions will rise from the sad rubble of the journalism business.

    That’s not where it’s going, at least not anytime soon. We’re heading into an incredibly messy but also wonderful period of innovation and experimentation that combines technology and people and pushes great and outlandish ideas into the real world. The result will a huge number of failures but also a large number of successes.

    This is why I’ve grown more and more certain that we will not lack for a supply of quality news and information. This comes with two caveats. First, we need a solid supply of people who are willing to take some responsibility for getting quality news and information. Second, we can’t let government and/or big media take away the freedoms we now have to experiment.

    Meanwhile, the next time you see or hear a story about this or that magic wand that someone is waving to save journalism, appreciate the entrepreneurial or technical or journalistic imagination that its founders have shown. But consider it just one small step along a long, long road to our future.

    (Cross-posted from Mediactive)

    Tagged: entrepreneurs future of journalism journalism newspapers startup
    • Exactly!

      No need for any more “BIG IDEAS” and no magic bullets. Just messy stuff from which will emerge different models in different places.

    • Dan,
      Agreed, that we need to focus on the whole ecosystem not the individual “big ideas.” However, we may need help to cull and support the best ideas in this new news ecosystem. I think the government can have a role here.

      It is not just that we have become “accustomed to a media world dominated by monopolies,” instead we have a set of media policies that have been developed for the most part without public input or engagement, that have privilege the corporate, conglomerate media model. While we need to change our mindset about the media world, we also need to change the policies to foster innovation, diversity of voices, quality reporting and the other elements of a media system that will provide communities with the news and info they need.

      We need to do this just for the two caveats you mention. “We need a solid supply of people who are willing to take some responsibility for getting quality news and information” and right now way more journalists are losing their jobs then are launching new ventures, leaving big holes in beat reporting and investigative journalism. And “we can’t let government and/or big media take away the freedoms we now have to experiment.” But we must look at ways that government can expand those freedoms and support new kinds experimentation. We have sketched some rough outlines of a journalist jobs program and a federal R&D fund for journalistic innovation in our new report located here http://bit.ly/JournalismPolicy.

    • jack fischer

      I think Dan’s right that that it’s likely to take all of these innovations working together to eventually craft a recipe for a new sustainable business model for journalism.

      But until that happens, I’m afraid we will, indeed, lack a supply of quality news and information to replace what’s been lost.

      Technology is giving everyone a greatly expanded role in uncovering and reporting the news that potentially can strengthen deomocracy and journalism’s watchdog function. But I suspect it’s also true that we wont have the solid supply of people willing to take responsibility for getting quality news that Dan talks about until we also have pay checks for more of them to do the regular digging, reporting and development of sources over time without which quality news cannot exist. Doing this work as a hobby won’t replace what’s been lost.

    • Gary Hardee

      Amen.

    • bc5805

      The successful business model will (as always) determine the best new outcome in the free-enterprise sand box we play in!

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