Will Google give you a press card?

The new year has re-energized the thought stream about journalism’s future, and we just can’t seem to stop trying to drag the new back into the old. I would dearly love to be around in, say, 100 years to read how history writes all of this, because what we’re reading today — even from some of the best thinkers around — is a sad apologetic for the good old days.

Some, like Michael Hirschorn of The Atlantic, are honestly trying to explore new territory, suggesting what The New York Times might be like without a paper.

Jack Shafer at Slate appears to have really turned a corner on the future of newspapers, and he’s produced some excellent commentary in the last couple of weeks, including this wonderful paragraph.

From the beginning, newspapers sought to invent the web in their own image by repurposing the copy, values, and temperament found in their ink-and-paper editions. Despite being early arrivals, despite having spent millions on manpower and hardware, despite all the animations, links, videos, databases, and other software tricks found on their sites, every newspaper website is instantly identifiable as a newspaper website. By succeeding, they failed to invent the web.

In his latest, Shafer makes a stunningly honest statement: “Before we get too weepy about lost journalistic jobs and folded publications,” he wrote, “let’s ask how often reporters lamented the decline of other industries, products, and services…”

There’s an abundance of thinking about how we need some form of micropayments from consumers for journalism. David Carr compares journalism to the music industry and wants an iTunes for news. Jeff Jarvis correctly points out that Carr is way off base, because the scarcity argument just doesn’t work in the networked information age.

…the real fallacy in Carr’s delusion is that a news story or an opinion, like a song, is unique—that you can’t get it somewhere else and so you have to buy the original. If I can’t get Allentown, the original, I’m not likely to settle for a cover. But if I can’t get Carr’s column about wishing for micropayments, believe me, I can go elsewhere and find plenty more columns and blog posts just like it. And even if Carr had a unique idea here, the essence of it—without guitar accompaniment—can spread without having to hear him sing the tune. Information isn’t art. Neither are opinions.

Fred Wilson penned an excellent piece over the weekend that I highly recommend reading. Fred’s a bullish guy when it comes to disruptions and the future, and he wonders whether journalists can be compared to the trees in Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi.”

They took all the trees
Put em in a tree museum
And they charged the people
A dollar and a half just to see em
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
Till its gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

…to me, avoiding the Big Yellow Taxi moment comes down to solving the business model question for microjournalism. Is there a way beyond ads to compensate microjournalists? Subscription seems like one approach but what can you charge for online? Participating in expert networks might be another approach. Speaking and writing books could be a third. My gut tells me that microjournalists are going to have to do more than just post to their blog to earn a living. In fact the blog will probably be the loss leader that keeps them in the game.

The always entertaining Mark Cuban went way out on a limb with what, on the surface, appears to be an insane concept, that professional sports teams should underwrite the sports journalism in their markets. He acknowledges the need for independent voices in the community, and suggests that journalists would just have to get over the implied conflict of interest. This idea is not as absurd as it may seem.

Finally, there’s Dave Morgan’s “My Last Column on the Decline of Newspapers.” He makes a case for Cuban’s argument and goes further.

…The size and structure of a daily newspaper is almost never dictated by the amount of news that occurred the day before. Rather, it is largely a function of how much advertising was sold for that day. Auto sections exist because car dealers pay for them. It’s that simple. The same holds true for food sections and grocers…

…the notion that the purity of newspaper journalism is the cornerstone upon which today’s great metropolitan newspapers were built is revisionist history. Most of today’s great newspapers were built through achieving dominant distribution in their markets, not through delivering better journalism.

This is exactly the kind of thinking we need to evolve journalism to its new place in the information age.

I believe the most significant issue for the future of journalism is access. Journalism will find a way to survive, but access in today’s evolving world is another matter entirely. Microjournalists don’t stand a chance of getting into the halls of power absent some form of “press card,” and who will issue those tomorrow? The police control crime scenes, and who will be granted access there, if everybody with a camera shows up some day?

Aggregator sites may have the clout to open doors, but who will be selected as representing them? Will Google give you a press card?

Comments

  1. no wikipedia entry for ‘milky the clown’– but you can click my id for a good 1960’s example of mark cuban’s concept.

    a visit to the homecreen provides a rare video clip from 1961 which explains in b/w the demise of the us auto industry!

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