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The Future of Journalism

Next month, I’ll be presenting at the prestigious Missouri School of Journalism. In preparation for the presentation, I’ve been spending time thinking a lot about the future of journalism. Spurred, in part, by my recent conversations with Tom Kennedy, I’m optimistic. And, it seems, I’m not alone. Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt is also looking on the bright side as well.

Unfortunately, it appears to me that newspapers, like many other industries in this digital age, are in need of a paradigm shift. Rather than seeing themselves as providers of “the news” as they’ve done for so many years, newspapers need to see themselves as  providers of context, insight and clarity in an increasingly complex and cluttered world.

Newspapers are no longer providing unique information. There are literally hundreds of places one can get snippets of breaking news. From Google News to Twitter trending topics, news has become an undifferentiated commodity, particularly for organizations that are simply repackaging articles of the AP news feed.

Where an organization like the NY Times, NPR or even the Salt Lake Tribune can shine and provide great value to a society is in helping me, the reader, listener or viewer, understand the broader implications of these individual news events.

Take, for example, the current military intervention in Libya. The top headline on the AP News wire reads “Snipers, shells, tanks, terrorize key Libyan city,” followed by a thorough description of the day’s events.

This event is simply the leading edge of a broad confluence of historical events, from oil policies in the United States to the Pan Am bombing in Lockerbie, Scotland; from America’s historical aim to spread democracy throughout the world to regional unrest within the broader Arab world. Keeping up with, and drawing meaning from, these disparate events is no easy task, even for a news junkie like me. Yet, there is a great deal of value to a populace who understands, and can create informed opinions about, the world based not simply on a single point in time, but a complex web of interconnected points that make up our world.

If the above description sounds suspiciously like a description of the The Economist, you’d be correct. And, during the peak of the newspaper crisis, I believe it was no coincidence that The Economist suffered far fewer losses than its counterparts in the daily newspapers.

As institutions like the NY Times begin the delicate process of charging for online access to the news, it behooves them to rethink their true place in society as a whole. The value  they can provide, and the value that journalism brings to the world, is measurable, and, I think, in the long term, quite profitable.

Discussion

3 comments for “The Future of Journalism”

  1. Congratulations on speaking to the Missouri School of Journalism.

    Over the last few years at the beginning of each semester I’ve wondered what I was going to say to a room full of budding journalism students.

    Over the last couple of semesters it as been getting easier, but the reality is their job will be much different than it was ten years ago.

    I’m not sure if I can yet rap my head around how the traditional media, such as newspapers, will survive.

    Posted by Rosh | March 24, 2011, 1:59 pm
  2. Rosh, I can imagine it is a difficult task generating excitement at the beginning of a new semester. I do feel confident that photojournalism and more broadly, journalism will thrive in the not-too-distant future, but I don’t know if traditional news outlets will survive the transition. Existing news organizations are feeling a lot like Blockbuster Video in a Netflix and iTunes world. There is so much fear of leaving the status quo, I’m not sure they’ll be willing, or able to make the leap.

    Let’s talk about this more in Chicago! We’ll get Tom to join the conversation.

    Posted by Jay | March 24, 2011, 3:55 pm
  3. […] researching material for a blog post, I came across the fascinating “What I Read” series on The Atlantic Wire. I found it remarkable […]

    Posted by Jay Kinghorn's Blog | Friday Round-up: Tune Out The Noise, Make More Money and Launch Your Film Online | March 25, 2011, 1:19 pm

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