As Rome burns, journalists whine about new media

As revenue heads south, smart newspapers are looking at different ways they can adapt to survive. At the extreme end, The Christian Science Monitor announced yesterday that it was moving to a primarily online model and abandoning their weekday print edition. Other papers have embraced blogging and new media tools such as Twitter, attempting to offer something extra online in an attempt to attract readers and drive online revenue growth. There’s no magic solution yet: online revenue is not replacing lost offline revenue but most recognize that things have to change if newspapers are to survive in any form (such as online only) in the near future.

So what do some American journalists think about their employers trying to keep their heads above water in a rapidly changing pace? Apparently new media tools create too much work, and may do nothing to help newspapers.

“Leading journalists” speaking at a National Press Club forum at the University of Missouri Monday told the audience that there is scant evidence that new technology can save journalism jobs and support the news business.

“I have been blogging for years,” said Tony Messenger, a state capital bureau correspondent for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I have yet to have a discussion in my newsroom about why we’re blogging and to tie that somehow into the newspaper’s business model.” Messenger also covered a gubernatorial election debate on Twitter and only 13 people followed him, proving that new media tools don’t deliver; “how can we save jobs in the newsroom if we do this?”

Elaine Sciolino, the Paris correspondent for the New York Times, complained that blogging and creating video for the web made her job way too hard, but she isn’t given a choice “If you want to be a journalist today, you just have to work harder and more efficiently. You aim for perfection until your deadline, and then you aim for doneness. You just gut it out.”

Sciolino though earns bonus points for not just being a whinger, but also a kook as well, suggesting that
newsapers cutting back on foreign correspondents is a clear and present danger to the American people:
“The decline in American newspapers is a major national security threat,” she said.

Jennifer Reeves, a Reynolds Institute Fellow said many news organizations were only embracing new technology because it is cool (her word), not because it delivers a better product: “A lot of newsrooms need to take a breath and see if the markets need it and find a way to use it logically” she said.

Apparently having to blog is driving journalists out of the profession and into public relations positions for school boards, according to Charles Davis, director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition and a Missouri professor.

There’s some substance in the need for newspapers to refine their use of new media tools to best deliver improved outcomes as they all rocket towards oblivion. However for journalists to whine about newspapers trying to survive, and trying to actually make enough money to keep paying the very journalists whining…well, there’s more than competition from the internet that is killing newspapers, it would appear that the journalists are as well. Of course it’s unfair to generalize: there are many very fine, hard working journalists out there who get what is going on, and are embracing the changes in the market, but too often we are reminded that for a hard core of traditionalists, new media remains the enemy that should be ignored, dying businesses be damned.