Tuesday, March 13, 2007

State of the News Media

By now you probably know the Project for Excellence in Journalism's State of the News Media 2007 report is out.

More of the same, in many respects -- job losses and what the report calls a "new era of shrinking ambitions." It suggests bloggers are about to undergo an identity crisis of sorts, as blogging is corrupted by politicians and businesses, leading to a set of "elites" who subscribe to various ethical codes and those that do not. The irony, as noted, is that once you professionalize are you any longer "citizen media"?

The report also dutifully notes that the old advertising economic model is not working online: The signs are clearer that advertising works differently online than in older media. Finding out about goods and services on the Web is an activity unto itself, like using the yellow pages, and less a byproduct of getting news, such as seeing a car ad during a newscast. The consequence is that advertisers may not need journalism as they once did, particularly online. ... Perhaps most important, the math suggests they almost certainly must find a way to get consumers to pay for digital content. The increasingly logical scenario is not to charge the consumer directly. Instead, news providers would charge Internet providers and aggregators licensing fees for content. News organizations may have to create consortiums to make this happen. And those fees would likely add to the bills consumers pay for Internet access. But the notion that the Internet is free is already false. Those who report the news just aren’t sharing in the fees.

That's a heavy chunk to digest, but what I'm reading in extreme shorthand is the suggestion that we have to find a new way to impose the "old" monopoly, but on a grander scale not limited to geographical place. Of course, it's just as easy for me to create my consortium online as it is you to create yours. And actually, I expect to see some of this. Bloggers bent on doing something akin to journalism, however it will be defined, are going to need umbrella organizations to provide things like legal help, perhaps editing help, possibly libel insurance, maybe bulk purchase of reporters notebooks and pens (OK, just kidding on the last).

And as information mushrooms, I think many people will seek aggregation sites they can trust because it takes too much time to monitor dozens of RSS feeds and Web sites. (We're already seeing that de facto in Yahoo News and to some extent in GoogleNews, except that search is a bit of a crapshoot).

Newspapers, after all, really are just aggregators in many senses, aggregating the varied talents of reporters under one roof and surrounding them with the insurance, editing, etc. (Don't let anyone kid you; while it may take a village to put out a newspaper, finding the news and reporting it remains largely a solo occupation -- sources (the good ones at least) don't do crowds well).

But back to the competing consortiums -- so if I set up mine and you set up yours, do you block my folks from linking to your content. Do I block you? There are some longer implications here that could get ugly. If the report's prediction is right, this will be fascinating to see how it plays out.

If you don't have time to read much of the report (that PEJ says would run to 700 pages printed), here are some of the cheat-sheet highlights from Poynter's Al Tompkins (scroll down about halfway). Poynter's Rick Edmonds also talks about the rerport - he was a co-author of the newspaper section. Interestingly, Edmonds talks about how too-few news Web sites don't link to outside documents and relevant materials, and then he goes about partially voiolating that rule. For instance, when he refers to a Pew report, he links to the general Pew page, not the one that lets you get directly to the study. Same with a statistice from the Newspaper Association of America, although the NAA doesn't always break such thing out into "findable" documents on its site.

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