Journalism is Morphing into Something Better

Our understanding of the media business is based on 20th century ideas. Those include the revolutionary idea of marrying technology and broadcasting, and adapting broadcast media to the purposes of marketing. Advertising revenue coupled with the relatively high cost of entry into the market gave the business model a huge push forward.

This is all changing. First, the cost of entering media markets has fallen dramatically (to close to zero) and we have a tsunami of media content every day via the web. Traditional media can claim that it is higher quality (a claim that for TV at least, carries some irony), but it no longer monopolizes our attention. Second, advertising money is moving into digital space and away from traditional media. So it is both more difficult to find audiences and money. Yikes!

Some argue that this means that journalism is in trouble. Well, it is true that traditional formats that journalists are used to working in are in trouble. But the truth is — as Mathew Ingram points out — that we have more journalism now — not less. the challenge for journalists is to figure out how to get ahead in this heated up space.

I would humbly offer a suggestion. The traditional model for journalism was oriented towards filling space in a magazine or newspaper or TV news show. One reported each day on stories that were developing. This has a two pronged focus. First, to identify events worth reporting on (news) and second to fit the news into a storyline that connects it to the reader. The low hanging fruit for journalists was and is sensational stuff. Dog bits man is not news. Man bites dog is.

The problem with this is that it has limited educational value for the consumer. One scans the headlines without learning why the headlines are there. And so the consumer gets an endless barrage of sensationalized accounts of stuff that is largely irrelevant to his or her life. Fox News and similar shows add a new dimension to this. To make this palatable, they throw in indignation, knowing that people get addicted to getting angry about stuff that has nothing whatsoever to do with their lives and which may or may not be based in reality.

We can do better if we re-think what journalism could offer. Journalism could start with a thesis about the future. The future should look like “x”. Then the news becomes who is moving us to that future and who is not. How can we get there? And what can we do to make it happen faster? In other words, journalism can create news that is relevant to targeted groups.

We see hints that some journalists are moving in that direction. Reporting about the environment, for example, has a future vision. We should stop global warming, for example, Whether you agree or not with this vision, at least it is a vision. It organizes stories around the goal and creates a logic and a culture. How many other visions do we get from journalism? I will be on the look out for this in this blog. Stay tuned!

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