I’ll be in Chicago (actually, Naperville) next week for a “news leadership summit” produced by the Radio and Television News Directors Foundation and sponsored by the McCormick Foundation. The title of the event is: “Wires and Lights in a Box: Murrow’s Legacy and the Future of Electronic News.” This year is the 50th anniversary of Murrow’s famous “wires and lights in a box” speech, which explains the title of the summit.
Participants are a Who’s Who of broadcast news managers and leaders at both the network and local level. Edward R. Murrow is the patron saint of broadcast news and a powerful figure in broadcasting history, so you can usually expect good attendance when asked to meet in his name.
There’s a session on Murrow’s legacy, one on entertainment versus news, another on ideology/partisanship in the press versus an impartial press, and my panel, “What is the business model of the future?”
Here are the questions we’ll be exploring with my panel:
- What will financial success look like in the future? What is the business model of the future?
- How does the industry address the ethical and credibility concerns raised by the intersection of news content and advertising? Even Murrow had sponsors.
- Will news operations continue to put news and public service over profit? How do news operations serve the public’s right to know and still say in business? Can public service journalism survive?
We’re also going to break into small groups (what would a conference be without small groups?) with the goal, it appears, of coming up with journalistic principles and standards to preserve for the future.
In all, it’s a pretty heady event, and I’m honored to be a participant. This has been my life’s work, and I appreciate the chance to share my thoughts. Besides, I really like to hear myself talk.
I’m always a little nervous, though, when an institution that’s being disrupted gets together to talk about the future. Broadcasting isn’t casting broadly anymore (to borrow a cool phrase from Scott Collins of the LA Times), so there’s a niggling sense that we’re heading for mediasaurus land. It’s natural that we’d turn to each other to try and figure things out, but it might be better to talk with those who are actually doing the disrupting.
I like to use a whale oil industry metaphor. Let’s go back in history to the annual whale oil industry conference, with the industry in the midst of disruption from electricity. Rather than seeing that they’re in the home lighting business, the whale oilers can only see electrical power in ways that will help them either extend the whale oil business or do it more cost-effectively — for example, by creating an electrically-powered harpoon (it cuts the manpower costs significantly, you see). So rather than invest in electricity for home lighting, they press forward to protect the bottom line. Nice, huh?
I’ll blog as much as I can from Naperville, and if you’re going to be there, I look forward to saying hello.