Hand wringing is almost becoming a watchable sport when it comes to the nose diving that was once the unshakeable world of old media. Every where we turn lately we are hearing dire prognostications of the death of newspapers. It is a subject that people on both sides of the old media – new media fence love to talk about. New media evangelists rub their hands together in glee over the potential changing of the guard while old media employees start worrying about how the mortgage is going to get paid.
Today saw a once member of old media – Tom Foremski; a former Fortune journalist now a blogger on Silicon Valley Watcher, post some thoughts about what is happening. While he agrees that old media is in a death spiral he doesn’t believe that the citizen journalists of social media are any real replacement for old media news.
This has left media companies in a very tough spot. As their traditional sources of revenue have been disappearing their new sources of revenue are unable to cover their costs. And the current economic crisis is magnifying this trend to an ever greater degree.
The media death spiral has become steeper and faster…
This is a huge problem because as a society, we need media professionals — citizen journalists cannot fill the breach.
He also doesn’t believe that this idea of news being free is sustainable regardless of which side of the argument you are on
News is not free, and it is not a commodity. News has been made available for free, and it has been made into a commodity but that is not its future because there is no future in that model. You will have to pay for it.
That means the end of the news aggregators. That means the end to arguments that the news aggregators send high volumes of traffic to the online publishers. What is the use of more traffic when it cannot be monetized to support the work of the news organizations?
I agree with him that the free model as being evangelized by Web 2.0 and social media mavens isn’t sustainable in the long run. As free flowing with money as advertising might be, even it has a finite limit especially with being able to provide reasonable livings for all parties involved. Just as Tom points out how sliding revenues from traditional advertising is cause failures of paper after paper the same thing could happen within social media.
Where I don’t agree with him – up to a point – is his assertion that citizen journalists can’t fill the void being left by the shrinking of newspapers. His argument is that traditional journalism is what helps maintain high quality standards, prevent misinformation or to counter the spin of corporations and governments. His insinuation is that these aren’t the type of things you will find with citizen journalism and I would definitely disagree with him on this.
Sure the big advantage of old media is that news was a centralized medium and as such was a lot easier to control out it was written, how is was researched and how it was disseminated. The problem with new media is that there is no centralized dissemination which makes it harder for people in general to do their one stop news shopping as it were. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t some citizen journalists / bloggers out there writing well researched and quality news type posts.
There is also a problem of perception which isn’t helping the adoption of citizen journalism any easier as a real viable alternative. Old media is perceived as being a news source you can rely on whereas new media has been young kid on the block with no respect for tradition and run by people with mercurial temperaments. In other words new media is all about MTV sound bites of opinionated semi news.
Even though this is really far from the truth until the point where new media can over come these types of perceptions it will always be considered as substandard in relation to the real news.