Not to point out the obvious, but with the low barrier to entry for using social media it’s pretty easy for anyone to say anything to anyone about anything these days. In contrast, my dad was trained as a printer in Ireland, and spent decades here in the U.S. working the night shift to produce the newspapers we relied upon for the news each morning. Reporters hunting down the scoop by day, editors fine-tuning the story in the evening, and my dad toiling through the wee hours setting the type. I loved waking up to the news he brought home each morning in that freshly printed paper.
These mornings I roll over and grab my iPhone off the nightstand. I click one of multiple apps to see what’s happened overnight. I check in on blogs, scan my twitter feed, make sure my facebook friends aren’t having major issues – all before I lift my head from the pillow. It’s over coffee that I turn to traditional media for more news: wsj, theregister, nytimes, … While I trust my friends to offer up their views on just about everything, I want their opinions supplemented by reporters hunting down scoops, backed by intelligent and thoughtful editors working the story.
That’s why I’m so intrigued by the Atlantic’s recent article on Google’s attempt to save traditional media. User generated content is often ad hoc, and it works best for me when supported by a system of professional journalists working the systemic stories.
The Sunday paper best exemplifies the traditional journalistic business model. All that news is paid for by the huge bundle of colorful ads that sit in the center of the folded paper. But in new media, the news doesn’t arrive in one convenient bundle that advertisers can use to push their message. And that one convenient bundle represents the traditional journalistic business model. But it’s not a question of whether we still need professional journalism, it’s a question of how to change the traditional media business model to support that profession.
Google acknowledges that they need the content produced by professionals to sustain the Google business model. And those professionals need to adapt as well to these changing times. The first thing to go will be the print, as more and more journalism goes on-line. That radically changes the cost structure of the news business. The second change is news aggregators, like Google News, directing traffic through content excerpts. And finally, the news will again be supported by ads, not in a bundle this time that falls out of your Sunday paper, but in on-line ads tailored to your interests via clickstream analytics.
So my dad no longer needs to set his linotype (good thing, cuz he retired and is now happy volunteering at a local cancer center), but we do need the journalists to feed content into our news ecosystem.