John McCann

Future of Newspapers: One View

In Blogging, Citizen Journalism, Listen to the Dawn, Newspapers on February 20, 2006 at 8:44 pm

Diane Rehm holds conversations with authors, politicians, industry experts, thought leaders, etc. on her daily radio show from WAMU in Boston. On her January 3, 2006 show, she talked to several people about the future of newspapers. The guests: Michael Massing, Journalist, press critic; John Morton, Newspaper industry consultant; Rem Rieder, Editor, American Journalism Review. It is worth listening to the streaming audio of the show.

At around the 29 minute mark in the show, a caller (who identified himself as the former managing director of the LA Times syndicate in Europe) states that citizen journalists and bloggers are destroying the future of news “papers” and that business models of traditional news gathering organizations will be challenged by a huge number of bloggers using citizen journalists all over the world. He said that the news paper model and the accompanying news gathering model will go away.

The sad thing was the response of John Morton (as I transcribed from the broadcast).

“I envision this bloggers world as sort of analogous to what civilization was like in the Middle Ages when everybody had opinions; we were full of all sorts of witch hunts and mysteries; it was before the Enlightenment. And really, civilization has advanced because of information. I don’t care how many opinions you spread around the world, it’s only going to be news coverage that provides information that makes a difference.”

Morton, who was introduced as a newspaper industry analyst, is clearly out of tune with the new media world. It appears from his response that he is totally unaware of the roles played by citizen journalists and has a view of bloggers that is commonly expressed in newspaper articles. A lot of the traditional media writers have put blogs into two camps: vanity blogs in which people write about their daily lives and opinion blogs in which people express opinions about articles they read in the traditional media.

These two types are, indeed, very common in the blogosphere. But just consider the number of bloggers at work. Dave Sifry reports that “Technorati currently tracks 27.2 million weblogs, and the blogosphere we track continues to double about every 5.5 months.” These 27 million bloggers include people who are generating the news, as well as people writing about that news.

If Morton is representative of that traditional world, the conquest described by the caller to the show will occur with very little opposition. If you do not understand what is happening to your business model, you cannot respond adequately.

  1. I know that there has been and will continue to be some important discussion of the role of citizen reporters and the many ways in which they can positively and negatively affect information availability and accuracy. That being said, I believe you have raised a different an important angle on that discussion. You have focused on the business model of traditional journalism and the degree to which it incorporates the citizen reporter. I agree that if you do not “see” it coming and incorporate it in your world view, it creates very fertile ground for a disruptive technology to overturn the established model. Regardless of how traditional media views the phenomenon, ignoring it seems to be the least appropriate response.

  2. I came across this posting (see link below) on the future of newspapers, as we know them. Also of interest was an article in the N&O concerning the purchase of Knight Ridder and how the newspapers continue to flourish. The article seemed to give the credit to newspapers when the ad revenue growth was from online. Looks like we are in a period of change which must not be ignored in the Participation Age. There are some who only see the need for the “professional ___________” fill in the bank with writer, journalist, photographer and others.

  3. After I posted my last comment I found this comment by Dan Gillmor about the pending sale of the San Jose Mercury News.

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