After getting all your thoughts yesterday before the Future of Journalism panel at the Christian Science Monitor’s 100th anniversary celebration, I went to the panel – and while there was much insight, anyone looking for “the answer” came up disappointed.
And really, that’s not surprising.
Moderator John Yemma of the Monitor, Ellen Hume of the Center for the Future of Civic Media at MIT, Mark Jurkowitz of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, Douglas K. Smith of The Sulzberger News Media Executive Leadership Progam and Sree Sreenivasan of Columbia University made up the panel, and they all had great insights into the problem – and the possibilities. But getting from now to the future – and doing it in a financially-viable way – is still a major dilemma, best noted by Douglas Smith and Mark Jurkowitz.
I won’t give you a blow-by-blow of the hour… but will share a highlight from each of the panelists. Consider it a mini-brain dump from the event.
Ellen Hume was in some ways the most optimistic of the group, seeing (rightfully) in the online future an opportunity for users on whatever platform (and we didn’t get to discuss much about future platforms and portability, etc.) to engage their media, and for the media to engage them. I didn’t particularly agree with her example of ‘crowdsourcing’ (a newspaper asking readers to post their water bills in an effort to ferret out inconsistencies with those bills), but she is right that new technologies open up opportunities for users to be active – and that journalism and society need to recognize both the need for civic engagement and the teaching of civic responsibility.
She also most directly answered the conundrum of how to create revenue for journalism – micropayments. (I wrote down my own line at that point in the discussion – “Freedom isn’t free. Neither is a free press.” Feels like a later blog post.)
Douglas Smith had one of the toughest roles – because he is the one of those trying to balance the business and editorial sides of things – value and values, as he put it. But as he discussed “sustainable enterprise models,” he pointed out that the historic separation of business and editorial – while a noble idea – has made a rethinking of ‘professional journalism’ that much more difficult, because it means there are very few people who understand both worlds, and they are no longer separable.
Mark Jurkowitz was a good analytical voice for the current state of affairs – noting that while the situation is critical, we’ve had 15 years of doomsaying for both print and broadcast – both still exist, and are evolving…
And I really enjoyed Sree’s viewpoints – which were both entertaining (Line of the night: “Keep an open mind, but don’t let your brains fall out…”) and enlightening. He noted that we are moving from a model where experts are no longer the most trusted sources – friends are. No doubt he’s right. I look at recommendations from my friends more often than I look at the e-mails I get from the New York Times – even as they often recommend the same things.
But in 90 minutes, we can barely scratch the surface. Things I would have liked to hear:
What does this mean for the current newsroom? Who is doing the best job of integrating the technology skills of the newest journalists with the old reporters – who know how to “commit journalism” but might not get Twitter 101? How do we build a learning culture inside a newsroom?
Where does the business model begin? I want to dig more fully into the ‘New Business Models’ discussion from CUNY last week – but I was struck by the number of presenters who were forced to move outside the current media to build new businesses. That may be necessary from an entrepreneurial standpoint, but how do we bring it back to the mainstream?
Will people pay? And will journalists get the money? As I was thinking about the biggest success stories of the web right now – the money is going to the aggregators – to Google, not the news organizations. One can say that newspapers have always been in the distribution business – but that journalistic organizations have never really seen that, and ceded the ground to the start-ups. How do you win people in a model where the most natural way to find news is Google?
And there was more – but I’ll spare you all that for now.
In the end – 90 minutes could never get to a solution. But it got my brain churning – and that’s certainly a start.