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Why journalists can't predict the future of news

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Why journalists can't predict the future of news

Nicole Martinelli | July 17, 2012

That the news business is on shaky ground is obvious, but how to fix it is much less clear.

As newspapers close, news radio stations play peek-a-boo and the line of paywalls gets longer, cantankerous journo-observer Alan D. Mutter, a former editor and columnist who now works as a media consultant, makes a great point about why people who write for a living are making few contributions to understanding what the future of news will be.

The main problem?

Journalists are having one-sided conversations about their field. Instead of treating the topic like a good story -- gathering multiple points of view from the people concerned -- they're holding water-cooler chats about what to do next, with predictably myopic results.

"Those of us worried about the future of journalism need to understand today’s marketplace on its own terms," Mutter writes. "Instead of relying on seat-of-the pants intuition and wistful thinking, we need reliable research and objective data to come up with relevant new formats and forums for journalism."       

Mutter points out that to get anywhere, discussions about journalism need to include the people who buy or consume media (the general public) the "other" people who make it (the tech folks) and the people who sell it or put money into it (marketing, advertising, investing.)

"To build next-gen journalism, we will need all the help we can get.  And that means bringing many more players to the table than the usual suspects who turn up at most journo-futuramas." 

A quick look at some panels from a few recent crystal-ball conferences prove his point, they're more monologues from journalists and editors than dialogues with the rest of the media ecosystem.

Via Reflections of a Newsosaur

Image: The book reader of the future (April, 1935 issue of Everyday Science and Mechanics) via Smithsonian.

Comments

... Bravo. I am close to

...

Bravo.

I am close to gagging from an endless diet of future-of-news articles calling for new "business models" for journalism.

Data journalism and - kack - entrepreneurial journalism are top of the pops at the moment. Both are and increasingly will prove valuable to the news ecosystem but do not and cannot provide a solution to the problem of the death of the ecosystem itself.

In calling for a wider perspective, or perspectives, the authors here are rightly skeptical. As a profession we need to get outside the echo chamber and take a much wider view. Much the same way we do with every other sector.

My view is that we need to grow the business model concept. To look at not just the costs of journalism but also the costs of not having journalism. We need to look at not just worst-case but also best-case scenarios - what would an ideal situation look like for journalism?

In answering that last question, we need to call for much greater equity between the institutional estates, so that the much quoted but universally degraded Fourth Estate enjoys much greater parity with the first three estates. That means looking at how much gets spent on the Legislature, Executive and Judiciary, then comparing that with what gets spent on the Press.

My own seat of the pants contribution? A click based revenue model, funded by a mixture of public and private sources, e.g. advertisers, governments and philanthropists.

Digitization of information means that a trade off could be the greater formalization of the journalism profession, now that we no longer have to act as the gate keepers of freedom of expression. Instead of resisting greater regulation and accountability, we should embrace it, earning ourselves equal pegging with similarly crucial professions as lawyers and doctors.

Or even plumbers and electricians. Trades people have to periodically refresh their license to practice, and journalists are among those holding them to higher standards. About time we did the same for ourselves, and, maybe, just maybe, we'll reap the benefits.

...

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