And the future is…


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.

The future of journalism is…

PASADENA, CA - OCTOBER 29:  Copies of The Chri...
NOT THE FUTURE: Image by Getty Images via Daylife

OK – quick assignment for people.

Tonight, I will be going to the Christian Science Monitor’s Centennial panel on “The Future of Journalism.” Of course, the Monitor has seen the future is online, not in dead tree forms, and is moving its daily edition online early next year.

But I wanted to ask all of you out there – and I am asking this here, on Twitter, and wherever else I can think of – one question.

Complete the sentence: “The future of journalism is…”


UPDATES FROM THE TWITTERVERSE: Doug Haslam retweeted my question and got a few more answers to add to the pile.

From @jimphelps: crowdsourced, focused content, at the moment of occurence, highly interlinked, multimedia and collaborative.

From @cheapsuits: …online.

From @paulswansen: dead in it’s current form. (Ted note: Not so uplifting, but pretty darn accurate, considering the state of the hosts of the forum.)

Don’t forget to check the comments page to read what others are saying, when they are less encumbered by the 140 character limit.

I’m alive! Yay! And the publisher’s tipping point.

Bad day for Bugsy. That’s apparently the name of the server which crashed at Dreamhost and took my site away for a loooong time. I’m sure you missed me. I can tell. But don’t be sad, you didn’t miss much. My morning time was spent discussing Google Books and the Christian Science Monitor – both of which have been sufficiently batted about the blogosphere, so I won’t even bother throwing up my superficial observations from the AM.


Image via Wikipedia

But the whole Monitor thing has me wondering how much longer it will be for a tipping point in the media moving to online-only platforms. We’ve had small papers – the Capital Times in Madison, the Cincinnati Post, and so on, but the Monitor is the first big name to go online-only. (John Yemma, by the way, who is leading the charge there, is one of the nicest people on earth, and I want to see the new venture succeed because, hey, he deserves it.)

I have an image in my mind of water eroding a wall. There is a small leak now, displacing some gravel and with the Monitor, a good size pebble. But it doesn’t take a lot more pressure to dislodge larger chunks of the wall, and pretty quickly, what was once a wall has a massive breach. Newspapers won’t completely vanish – not right away – but where is the limit, when major metro dailies are taking 10% hits every year and big chains are laying off thousands?

And I’m not even acknowledging the pressures on TV – maybe because they are hitting too close to home, or because the future is slightly less clear. But the multimillion dollar investment in DTV transition couldn’t come at a worse time for broadcasters, especially small ones, who don’t know where to pick up the revenue they are losing as they stare down the barrel of the recession.

These are scary times. But also exciting – because even as we see the demise of traditional media forms, we are seeing a world of new opportunities for journalists and journalist-wannabes, for community builders and advocates. I’m hoping that I am on the path to seizing that future.

So, that’s the stuff I might have said this morning on the air. I didn’t. But we live in an interesting time. And maybe when I have more time of my own, I’ll get some more concrete thoughts on paper.