Between nostalgia and the future of news

I’ve got so many links on journalism and media topics here from the last week to share, especially as they pertain to old-media journalists being confronted with the realities of the new media universe, voluntarily or not. As traditionalists continue their nostalgia tour of the late, great newsroom, the vitality and energy that have departed the premises is cropping up in outside precincts in a variety of new endeavors.

I’mtrying not to get too excited, because the prospects for bootstrapping remain daunting (via @ckrewson). Still, I love hear about the fight that’s left in so many people, in spite of their circumstances and their odds for staying in the profession.

• Travel editor Chris Gray Faust was among those laid off at USA Today last week, despite being an experienced travel editor and newsroom manager who jumped all over the Web. She’s eager to move on, based on what she observed from those outside the “newsroom bubble:”

“I’d go to conferences and meet people who were making it just fine on their own. Some were creating niche businesses, busting up the paradigm. Others were parlaying old school media talents into fresh ventures, with a moxie that made me wish I had the freedom to emulate them. The air inside USAT’s towers on Jones Branch Drive always seemed a little stale after that.

These freelancers-slash-entrepreneurs are smart. They are nimble. And now they are my role models, as I join their ranks.

• Public relations maven George Snell is predicting that the Gray Fausts of the world will infuse non-newsroom journalism with some badly-needed vibrancy (via Dan Kennedy) and help create a blogging “Renaissance.” He didn’t delve into how they might be able to make a living:

“Former journalists like Chris Gray Faust are going to take their journalism expertise to blogging. They no longer will be blogging part-time as a supplement to their ‘day jobs’ as journalists. They are going to be blogging full-time – trying to make careers out of it. This surge of professional writers and reporters to the ranks of blogging is going to take blogging in new and creative directions.”

• Not long ago I wrote here about the fallacies of neutering the newsroom. In her latest piece for the Nieman Journalism Lab, Gina Chen explains how she finally was deprogrammed out of the cult of objectivity — after leaving her newspaper, of course:

“By not telling people what I thought or felt or believed, I may have been avoiding the near occasion of subjectivity, but I wasn’t being a better journalist. I wasn’t building trust with readers. Refraining to tell readers where I was coming from didn’t make me objective. It just failed to make me transparent.”

Amen.

• Then there are social media policies that some news organizations have employed to put their august journalists in another kind of straitjacket:

“The notion that jour­nal­ists don’t have per­sonal lives or opin­ions, that they shouldn’t reveal polit­i­cal pref­er­ences or engage in civic causes regard­less of their beat, that they should be shielded from direct inter­ac­tion with the pub­lic for fear of dis­clos­ing a com­pro­mis­ing point of view — this is sheer lunacy. If news­pa­pers die, it will be because they splayed them­selves on the altar of objec­tiv­ity rather than mov­ing to a new kind of rela­tion­ship that the pub­lic is clearly crav­ing for.”

• What impact might these restrictions have on a younger generation of journalists? Plenty, and this appraisal is hardly encouraging:

“If young journalists choose to revolt against convention, they will likely be rejected by the group. This means isolation within the workplace, or outright dismissal. Pushing the limits of the organization can result in a very real cost for younger journalists. It’s high risk, with potentially few rewards.”

• Meanwhile, some journalists wrapping themselves up in the cloak of traditionalism continue crabby diatribes against threats to their careers without examining how they might adapt to the media world as it is:

“We advocate abolishing the term ‘citizen journalist.’ These people can call themselves ‘citizen news gatherers,’ but it is no more appropriate to call them citizen journalists than it would be to sit before a citizen judge or be operated on by a citizen brain surgeon.”

• One newspaper old-timer I’ll give a bit of a pass to is Pete Hamill. For all of his nostalgia about the way newspapers were, he does provide a bit of bracing realism about his beloved craft, and is clear-eyed about what he likes, and doesn’t like about journalism emerging on the Web:

“I love Charlie Sennett’s globalpost.com. I did a piece for them on the 20th anniversary of the fall of communism behind the Iron Curtain because I was there. So I think the beginning of that is happening. You can see with the Wall Street Journal what the format might be. They are now charging for the Internet version which is a hell of a lot cheaper than finding a newsstand to carry it.

“We have some others. The Huffingtonpost.com does not pay its writers. Tina Browns’ thedailybeast.com does pay its writers. You have to be paid because this is not a hobby. You have to keep that standard. You can’t ask grandpa to loan you money because you have to go to Afghanistan. I walked the picket line for that to continue.”

• Also getting some traditionalists uptight is a reorganization announced last week at the Dallas Morning News that has some news managers — in entertainment, sports, travel, automotive and typically ad-oriented verticals — reporting to business and sales staff. Mathew Ingram has mixed feelings about this that I share:

“Should the Chinese wall between editorial and advertising become more porous, or be torn down completely? I’m torn on the subject, frankly. I realize that journalism needs to bend and evolve, and that harsh business realities have to be taken into account, but I’ve also seen the damage that can be done when ad concerns drive — or even shape — coverage of a story.”

• However, for those of us now on our own or who are part of independent news ventures, no such wall exists. We’ve got to make it pay, or we go on to something else. Those still in newsrooms who are shocked by the wall crumbling need to break out of the cocoon, and soon. Among the challenges for news entrepreneurs, this is the one that I think might be the most important — and probably the most difficult — to reach:

“Don’t assume anything you do will be unique. No matter how clever the idea or the underlying technology, someone else can easily set up in competition to you. The internet makes it much easier to self-publish, but it makes it easier for everyone not just you! Being the first to do something is not necessarily good. You will do all the work creating a marketplace that others will then exploit. But if you are in a niche and fairly innovative space, competition is a good thing. It spreads the burden of building consumer confidence in your business model and should prevent you becoming complacent.”

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