It’s a good time to be a journalist…

March 17, 2009

but an awful time to be in journalism.

And by journalism I mean newspapers.

And this piece by Clay Shirkey, Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable explains it far better than I could have.

Back in 1993, the Knight-Ridder newspaper chain began investigating piracy of Dave Barry’s popular column, which was published by the Miami Herald and syndicated widely. In the course of tracking down the sources of unlicensed distribution, they found many things, including the copying of his column to alt.fan.dave_barry on usenet; a 2000-person strong mailing list also reading pirated versions; and a teenager in the Midwest who was doing some of the copying himself, because he loved Barry’s work so much he wanted everybody to be able to read it.

One of the people I was hanging around with online back then was Gordy Thompson, who managed internet services at the New York Times. I remember Thompson saying something to the effect of “When a 14 year old kid can blow up your business in his spare time, not because he hates you but because he loves you, then you got a problem.” I think about that conversation a lot these days.

Anyone interested in the death of the media should have a read… it’s well worth while.

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3 Responses to “It’s a good time to be a journalist…”

  1. Mysterious Dave Mather Says:

    Great article! Unfortunately, it doesn’t have answers.

    Personally, I like newspaper journalism (although my adversion to Granny herald continues), but 90% of the time I source the articles online. So I largely avoid funding the shrinking squadrons of reporters that supply them.

    So, at the end, the article clearly states someone will find a business model that will support a decent amount of journalism online, just what that model is they don’t know.

    Any ideas? Guesses accepted.

  2. audent Says:

    breaking news isn’t hard to do. There’s a place for it – online.

    At Computerworld we had a problem. As a weekly newspaper we were constantly being scooped by our daily rivals. In fact, I remember an early training session where I was told this was just a fact and there was nothing to do about it and that the CW ethos was to write a story assuming all the boring “basic facts” kinds of stories had been written. It became something of a strength.

    When we moved online it worked out doubly well. Computerworld would continue to be scooped but instead of it being the daily papers it would be the Computerworld Online team! We win, and then we win again in print!

    That model does it right across the board. Evening newspapers have been suffering (all the evenings have closed as far as I can see except for the Waikato Times) because TV news beats them to the punch so nobody buys evening editions any more. Morning papers are, of course, out of date by 10am.

    Now, instead of waiting for the next morning to update the story, they can do it online immediately and beat the broadcasters to the punch. Radio was, previously, the only medium to be able to do this in any major way – now online is kicking arse.

    So, not rocket science at all. Breaking news goes online, features, background, follow-up stuff goes in print.

    Try telling that to a: an editorial board built on news papers and b: to an advertising agency that employs teeny boppers who don’t use the web.

    Early days though… as Clay says – we’ve only really been doing this for the past five or so years. Plenty of time for a real business model to emerge.

  3. Mysterious Dave at home Says:

    Okay, just stream of thought here.

    I guess the trick is, if it’s a good time to be a journalist, you just have to figure out how to be paid to be a journalist.

    Your comment above seems based on the idea that there is a print outfit behind the publishing providing scoops online. Try telling that to the former employees of the Seatle P.I. Although I hate to predict the future (because most people who do get it wrong), It is entirely possible that before your retirement, newspapers will vanish. Can you think of a model that doesn’t depend on wood pulp?

    If it is online, the news can be instant. But if it is online nobody wants to pay for the news. Somehow, a journalist needs to be associated with a product for which he/she can promise a number of eyeballs that can then be rented to advertising.

    The advertisers need to know that there are eyeballs to rent, and eyeballs need to not be turned off owing to obtrusive advertising. Finally, can this be done without bending content to fit advertising?

    Or, the journalist has to find a revenue source which isn’t advertising.

    I’m stumped, over to you.


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