The Future of News
Topic owners: Dharmishta Rood, Jon Fildes
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The traditional media industry is in turmoil. Circulation of newspapers is falling. Some, such as the Tribune group, are saddled with huge debts and have filed for bankruptcy. Staff are being laid off, costs are being cut and foreign bureaus are being shut. Audiences are fragmenting, advertising spending is plummeting and the valuations of companies are dropping. TV and radio are experiencing similar problems. Some organisations, such as Pasadena Now, have even begun outsourcing local news reporting to India.
Most of these changes have been blamed on the arrival of the web, which has changed how information is produced and consumed. Now, anyone can be a news gatherer, publisher and distributor. The balance of power has changed. Yet at the same time there is a paradox; the web offers organisations a huge opportunity to reach out to audiences and connect with them in new ways.
This class aimed to explore at least two of the challenges currently facing the media industry:
- What will the business model of the future look like? As Richard Sambrook , Director of the BBC's Global News division, says: “Newspapers and broadcasters have lived for decades by selling audiences to advertisers. Now the number of eyeballs per page or per programme is falling - but we have much greater detail and granularity about where they are going and what they are doing online. Media organisations have to find a way to extract the commercial value from that”. Already, groups such as spot.us and Pro Publica are experimenting with new business models, such as community-funded reporters and grant funded newsrooms. Others, such as the Christian Science Monitor, have ditched the old way of doing things and have gone entirely online. Others, such as the Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press, seem to be following a similar strategy by cutting back on home deliveries. Will these work? Are these the right approach?
- What will the newspapers or media outlets of the future look like? The New York Times is using its website in new and innovative ways. Others experiments, such as the LA Times wiki editorials, have been less successful. So, how should papers engage with their audience? Is news reporting now a collaborative process? How should they respond to citizen journalism? Are they competing or should they - and can they - work together?
The class also explored some of the issues facing the future of the news industry. Could they disappear? Does it matter if they do? What values are at stake beyond what the markets appear to be able to sustain? Should governments intervene to save them in the same way as they have decided to prop up the ailing car manufacturing industry? Is this an appropriate intervention? Should it be left to market forces? Ultimately, what is the future for “old media”?
Question of the week
What values are at stake in the newspaper industry and what could - or should - be done to maintain them?
We had two guests take part in person: Russ Stanton, editor at the LA Times, and Jeff Jarvis, associate professor and director of the interactive journalism program at the City University of New York and author of What Would Google Do?. We also had a video link with Josh Cohen, product manager for Google News. This was arranged through Peter Hopkins of Big Think.
Background and Discussion
- Write Now. Mark Pinsky of the New Republic on why Barack Obama should resurrect the Federal Writers Project and bail out laid-off journalists.
- End Times. Michael Hirschorn of the Atlantic asks whether the New York Times can survive the death of newsprint?
- (optional: NYT response)
- David Carr of the NYT on why newspapers need an iTunes moment. Jemima Kiss of the Guardian disagrees.
- A short introduction to the newspaper crisis on the Daily Show
- LA Times to lay off 300
- Jeff Jarvis on whether the LA Times should switch off its printing presses, and a follow up
- Can Journalism go with the flow? by Jeff Jarvis
- The AP report (PDF) mentioned in Overload!
- Boing Boing post by Clay Shirky: The Newspaper Industry and the Arrival of the Glaciers
- Newspapers outsource newsgathering
- Tribune Co. Bankruptcy
- A view from the other side: a newspaper journalist ignores the potential of the web
- Columbia Journalism Review article: Overload!- Journalism’s battle for relevance in an age of too much information
- blogs, pageviews and worth
- Times Extra! and some thoughts about it and other things
- Bad news, good news: the industry in numbers
- Citizen Media Law Project
- An ad-model based off of twitter? How could this be applied to news?
- Online Pulitzers anyone?
- For those of you who have never read online news: 10 things every newspaper and magazine website must do
- Why Google defines the new digital economy by Jeff Jarvis
- False Fact On Wikipedia Proves Itself
- Time Magazine asks How to Save Your Newspaper
- Spot.us: an experiment in community funded journalism.
- Everyblock allows people to choose news feeds about their local areas
- NYTimes Extra gives readers third party content.
- Now Public: Crowd-sourced media
- Oh My News: One of the original citizen journalism projects
- Ground Report: "The world's hyperlocal citizen news platform"
- Pro Publica: an experiment in sponsored invetigative journalism
- TypePad for Journalists Formerly the TypePad Journalist Bailout Program, allows journalists "to take control of their own careers".
Each class registered for a Seesmic account. Seesmic is a video blogging application which has been called the "Twitter of video". It allows threaded video discussions. You can watch a video explainer here
We also webcast the class using Mogulus and encouraged people to use twitter during and after the session. We also used the Berkman question tool to field questions from the audience members and those watching the webcast.
Clearly, this was a huge area and we were not able to discuss every issues facing the newspaper industy. Instead, we tried to look to the future and encouraged the discussion to start before the class and continue after it finished.
Hence, we asked each group to use a webcam or mobile phone to record an elevator pitch and post it to Seesmic before the day of the class. The pitch was supposed to describe a new business model, working practice or technology that the group thought newspapers should adopt. Alternatively, groups could pitch a policy proposal directed at the newspaper industry. We'd also asked groups to explain what effect their idea would have. We listed some relevant projects above as inspiration.
This session of the course was held open to the public in a large seminar room at HLS, which allowed for comments and discussion from interested members of the community. Members from outside and within the room participated in online discussion on various platforms.
The session opened with remarks from Russ Stanton who outlined the challenges faced by the LA Times and some of the measures the paper was taking to make sure it remained relevant in the digital age. Questions with Mr Stanton from the audience was then followed by a brief overview from Jeff Jarvis, who outlined the current dilemmas and some of the potential solutions for newspapers. This focused on the "link" and the value of google, views expressed in his book. Again, after a short period of questions and answers we moved on to our third guest, Josh Cohen from Google News. This followed a similar format but was cut off midway through when the video link was terminated.
The remainder of the session was devoted to Q&A, as the audience - many of whom were professional journalists - wanted to pick the brains of the speakers. We tried to introduce the results fo the questionnaire and the Seesmic videos but did not have time to fully explore their conclusions.
For more information on the class see:
Liveblog of the event from Graham Webster at transpacifica.net
Post-event interview with Jeff Jarvis by the Nieman Journalism Lab
Post-event interview with Russ Stanton by the Nieman Journalism Lab
Evaluation of the Class
Overall this session of the course went well. We had a large community turnout on a snowy Monday night, and exceeded the initial mogulous live webcast cutoff of 50 individual viewers, to then be allowed 100. Interesting and sometimes contentious points were brought up by members of the class and guests alike and people in the room rarely turned to their laptop screens, if at all. The discussion continued well after class, with students meeting for snacks and drinks to interact with the guests and professors.
There are many things too, that could have been improved upon. The discussion in the room was lively and interesting, but it could have been helpful to direct the conversation around specific issues faced by our guests, rather than the broad "news industry" as an entity. Questions also became very complex, so it became a challenge to provide a socially friendly way to limit question length to allow ample time for answers and discussion. It was also difficult to accommodate for questions from those not in the room--submitting via twitter or the question tool, as precedence was given to those in the room.
Use of Technology
In an effort to make the class as open and accessible as possible, we chose to include as many technologies as possible. These included Twitter, Seesmic, Mogulus and the Berkman Question Tool. We also had no explicit restrictions on the use of laptops during class. Although this generated a relatively large amount of chatter around the class online, it was difficult to gauge whether this added to the experience of people in the auditorium.
Suggestions for Future Iterations
- Assigning work before class for students to begin processing the readings and formulating opinions
- Bringing in knowledgeable, relevant and high-profile guests
- Topic was current and unresolved
- Open class allowed greater audience participation in the room and in cyberspace
- Generated interest in the class by advertising the class in many online locations including Facebook and the Berkman website.
- Test all technology before class
- Limit number of technologies used in class that allow for participation
- Ensure class exercise is due with enough time to process and evaluate contributions before class
- Have a more structured outline for the session with distinct questions to keep the guests and session on specific topic
- Be prepared to direct guests more clearly to make sure time is used efficiently
- Limit question length from audience