Jeff Jarvis & the Future Of Newspapers
Jeff Jarvis recently wrote a description of what he thinks the quintessential 21st Century editor is like, by telling his audience all about recruitment ads of some renowned newspapers.
The roles which the papers were looking to hire new people for, sound pretty tech savvy. Jarvis cites the Guardian's hiring a tag editor. The people there will refer to the new recruit as a keyword manager. What he or she will be up to will amount to labelling online content, to ensure that it is consistent with the needs of readers as well as with editorial values.
And, Jarvis informs us, The Times of London has hired a search editor. This person has got to be present in the editorial offices to explain to the editorial staff how the search structure of the web functions. What’s more, he or she has got to improve The Times’ newspaper article rankings in the search engines. No kidding.
Jarvis writes at length about the very fact that these newspapers are hiring people in their editorial departments to fulfill these roles. I agree that this is quite interesting. It shows clearly that the media are beginning to understand the very scope and proportion of the change that is besetting their editorial departments.
Which in essence is linked with the rise of greater transparency and subsequent participation of readers in the news digest process, previously unknown territory. Technological professionals who only ten years ago still appeared to be far removed from the insides of news rooms are now becoming indispensable to the editorial process. Search engine demi-gods are of great value to newspapers because to have a more searchable product is a matter of grave importance in the slash throat paper business.
The rise of online specialists proves that it is possible that highly scaled structures are unleashed on an information product. Papers are beginning to understand that professional online information reaches those very recesses of minds that they’d simply always assumed it did. But were never all that sure of. You know, free flow of ideas was a thing akin to the invisible hand in markets. Papers now want control of the processes beyond publishing the news, rather than simply being in the business of selling straightforward, accurate stories. Tomorrow’s fish wrap has ceased to exist, in some ways.
News organisations are traditionally by definition fast paced, but in recent years, due to the rise of the rapid changing and change demanding internet, newspaper journalists have fallen behind in terms of competitiveness, media analysts say.
We are not all called Jeff Jarvis and gurus like him themselves are constantly on their toes, trying to convey a somewhat comprehensive idea of change in the media. Do these renowned media critics ever have the idea that they have any reaction to anything that’s sourced from more than mere ‘presence of mind’? I doubt it.
The media’s response to the rapid changes have not been non existent –testimony the Jarvis story- but an overall remedy that ensures the continued role of the writers/reporters/journalists hasn’t been embraced by the industry. Safeguarding jobs is not the role of media (who are supposedly mirroring trends in society at large) anyway, but somehow the entire industry is under threat as a result. Can societies live healthily without professional media? I doubt it.
Perhaps it’s an informational thing. You see the same in the pharmaceutical industry. Recently, research pointed out that due to the rise of online information hungry ordinary people, some patented medicins are expiring without reaching the masses, because of the Pharma industry’s behind the times in online marketing. People might think they know what is good for them, but if online marketers do not live up to the challenge in time, an assymetric situation arises. A similar situation could be the case in the news sector. Who is to say that your newsreader really is as comprehensive as you think it is – how can you check if you do not know what you’re missing?
Lucas Grindley, a content manager for International Herald Tribune recently advised young journalism undergrads at the University of South Florida to omit his usual enthusiastic call for staying put in the newspaper industry. “I’ve decided against advising them to go into newspapers” he says on his blog, adding that online media isn't limited to newspapers and that there are plenty of places in dire need for trained journalists.
What was interesting was that he based his advice on research that the media have largely ignored. The study, on behalf of the Learning Newsroom program, compiled findings sourced by hundreds of people in established newspaper newsrooms, revealed that young people are pretty much leaving all of the participating newspapers. Not only were they leaving, they were also thinking about leaving the entire industry. “What’s sad is that so few people in the newsroom believed the study’s results, which is based on reports in hundreds of surveys”, Grindley said, adding that people were leaving out of sheer frustration with the very slow pace of change.
From this picture, you get the idea that the media are lagging behind. That is true, but the business models of newspapers somehow continue to make sense economically; in part due to the loyalty of readers. That should not be underestimated. But it likely won’t do in decades to come.
To understand how change would be feasible, you have to employ a philosophical approach. ‘Being in touch’ is a whole new ball game and it is this new mindset that is central to one’s success at understanding the elements to change in the media. To be successful at keeping up, the media have to understand what their traditional credo as empowering through information means in the new era.
The writers at a site called Extreme Democracy , a site of networked activists, hand a few good pointers. Defining Extreme Democracy as ‘a political philosophy of the information era that puts people in charge of the entire political process’, they point out that what we see happening in society is a deliberative process that places total confidence in the people, opening the policy-making process to many centers of power through deeply networked coalitions that can be organized around local, national and international issues.
New tools are very important because they rapidly break down existing barriers to collaboration and access to power. One vital issue that is very important in determining how the media’s changes are going to be matching the change in the rest of society, is to differenciate between extreme and direct democracy.
Direct democracy is what the old media used to preach. It assumes that all people must be involved in every decision for it to be truly democratic. But this is as inefficient as assuming that it is useful. Even though it might be accomplished with tools, direct democracy creates as many, if not more, opportunities for obstruction of social decisions as a representative democracy”, Extreme Democracy writes.
So what is the alternative? It is a human-centered approach to the world. Every debate that a person deems interesting should be open for them to participate in. That this is happening to a large degree already accounts for a lot of the frustration of the young journalists in the established media that are slow to pick up on the message. Governance is no longer the realm of ivory towered specialists. Similarly, activism is a critical popular element in making a just society.
The opening up of societies has massive consequences for the creation of relevant discourse. Newspapers face the challenge to switch from a one size fits all product to personalized output. If newspapers are going to make it to the next level, they’ll have to figure out what the best ways are to interact with and provide for their readers.
A yardstick for optimum news provision would be to judge what the newspapers’ niche is.
So far, this has all been talk from within the walls of the journalism industry. Which is likely more self critical than any industry. An interesting perspective from the other end of the spectrum –the new information products from the blogosphere, citizenry, grassroots reporters etc- shows the level of in depth coverage of highly specialists topics. Just how seriously are blogs threatening the established media? And more importantly, just how seriously can people actually rely on Web2.0 writing projects?
The media frequently assesses these issues and supports the credibility of some bloggers by including them in their coverage. A field day for studying the intrinsic power of bloggers might have occurred last month. October 15th the inaugural Blog Action Day (BAD) took place.
The organizers introduce the activity on their site as ‘One Issue One day, thousands of voices’. The issue was the environment. Some bloggers exhibited racy professionalism and were compiling reports that had been sourced by true press releases of eager readers, sometimes big corporations.
An example is read/writeweb.com, a web technology blog and BAD participant, which was approached by BadBuster, a search engine that assesses and rates how environmentally friendly companies are.
Read/writeweb gave a fair review to BadBuster, including some criticism. There is no need to be condescending because it’s overly clear that true expertise can not be beaten by a general journalist’s nifty writing skills and a tonne of intelligence to understand new issues, but the degree to which bloggers are gaining a foothold in the traditional media’s territory is virtually unknown. For one day all participating bloggers had the chance to be united like a true newspaper with an agenda. “At the heart of the idea is the message that by uniting the world's blogging community, it is possible to reach a combined audience of millions to raise awareness of the environment, get people thinking and trigger a global debate”, one commentator writes.
There are hardly any useful statistics on the event, which is a pity because it makes for great material. Officially, 20,603 bloggers participated. They wrote 23,327 Blog Posts according to data by Google Blog Search and the information was disseminated to 14,631,038 RSS Readers.
I wonder if the established media suffered a lack of or experienced heightened interest as a result of the bloggers’ action. What or if there are any medium term impacts would also be interesting to know.
The biggest news of the day as measured by blog tracking devices turned out to be the event itself, which doesn't come as a surprise. Somehow, the day echoes the very scenarios that took place millennia ago when the first newspapers were founded. Which all started more or less with people deciding on nothing but an agenda.
Bloggers do not replace the established media but they're definitely exhibiting similar traits to newspaper beat specialists. The jury’s out on who’s going to make the longest tail no doubt.
Somewhat heartening in this context is that the online specialists themselves are often running into trouble before they get it right. The marketing process of a product that’s dependent on credibility is of course a precarious thing. A recent headline in Mediapost.com is a case in point; “Everything we know about search is wrong”. It’s a quote of search guru Brian McAndrews, who is the former CEO of aQuantive and is now a Microsoft senior vice president in charge of competing with other engines for ad dollars. The comment, if anything, underpins the high degree of versatility that the marketing hounds are used to. To play around with vast amounts of money and then, mid-way running this course, stating that all the previous strategies, ploys, labor intensive products have all been wrong is in the order of shock value that newspapers hithertoe have left their editorial departments to dish out daily. Whether the media as enterprises are flexible enough to be fighing the same battle, time will tell.
Tags: Jeff Jarvis , Newspapers , Reporting , Online Reporting
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