Kvetch of the Week: Remake the news, already!

Mark Potts, aka The Recovering Journalist, is about as impatient as any new media guru for the journalism profession to develop its online potential. So last week’s very sad events — notably the end of the Rocky Mountain News — gave him the perfect opportunity to offer a familiar reprise about the news business:

“This was the week that was–the beginning of the end. Newspapers, as we know them, are dead.

“I know a lot of people don’t want to read that, and will rise up and argue that millions of papers are still sold every day, and thousands of people work hard to put them out, and millions of people read them, and countless advertisers still pay to be in them, and blah blah blah, but sorry: the printed newspaper, full of static, day-old news, is an anachronistic product, declining in popularity and value. Their Web sites, sorry, aren’t much better.”

While newspaper types may bristle at this a bit — I do to a degree, more because of tone and attitude that I’ll try to explain in a later post — it is rather good Kvetch of the Week-winning material. But Potts also offers another reprise in the form of some concrete, hard-headed suggestions on remaking the news online.

Going hyperlocal, developing highly targeted coverage niches, cultivating the art of aggregation, database storytelling, social media conversation and fostering more user-generated content are some of the specifics Potts and others like him have been preaching for quite a while.

And who’s going to do it best? Not those remaining in a crumbling industry:

“These next-generation news/information/communication/advertising products probably are not going to be built by those dying newspapers, or by the people who currently put them out. That’s a hard thing to say, but I believe they’ve officially blown their chance. Weighed down by legacy thinking, costs and culture, the existing operators of newspapers simply can’t move fast enough or imaginatively enough into the future. We’ve learned that over and over. If it wasn’t true, newspapers wouldn’t be dying.

“I strongly believe it will be upstarts, new players, that build the successful news products of the future. Lean, nimble and creative, they’ll be able to pull together all the ingredients listed above and come up with a replacement for the traditional newspaper that’s far more interesting, interactive and richer in just about every way.”

While I don’t doubt this, Potts doesn’t detail how these efforts — and the journalists required to lead them — will be paid for. There are plenty of creative, interesting ventures already underway all over the country that are encouraging. But I’m still taken aback that the bottom of the print economy has fallen out so rapidly, and is occurring before viable, influential online news institutions can be established to take their place.

The gap, in fact, might be greater and deeper and will exist for much longer than I first thought. It’s well past time to think and act more proactively about the future of news, because it’s already here. I’m not eager to lament what’s fading away too gravely, but the digital triumphalists, so zealous to sweep away print culture altogether, underestimate what is being lost.

More on that soon.

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3 thoughts on “Kvetch of the Week: Remake the news, already!

  1. Wendy: Thanks for the shout-out. I’m a bit perplexed, though, why you think I left out how a next-generation news startup would be paid for. My prescription list specifically included several advertising ideas, and that’s where the revenue would come from. Just because newspapers have proved inept at capturing online revenue (as I’ve written about in many previous posts) doesn’t mean it can’t be a means to fund the sort of low-cost operation I was outlining.

    Keep up the good work,
    Mark

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  2. Thanks, Mark, for the comments. And for reading this post.

    I’m sorry that I missed some things you’ve written about paying for the news. My apologies.

    When you talk about “low-cost” I understand the scale is going to be different than what many of us were used to at newspapers. I just hope it’s not too low that journalists won’t see much of a future at these startups.

    I’m excited by what I’m seeing (and what I’m involved with) but at some point we’ve got to feel there’s a living wage that’s possible. That’s my predicament, and I know I’m not alone with those concerns.

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  3. Wendy: Agreed, there’s no question we’ve got to find a way to pay journalists. But what they do in the future may be quite different from before (think: more online community management and involvement), and the reality is that we may have to afford fewer than we have now. But nobody’s arguing that any of the models being put forth–aggregation, blogs, user-generated content, etc.–are a replacement for old-fashioned reporting and writing. Many of us are at work trying to figure out how to blend it all together into the next news thing.
    Best,
    Mark

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