TWIT’s view on the future of journalism

In Honours blog on June 22, 2009 at 8:47 am

I was listening to the TWIT (This Week in Tech) podcast, hosted by Leo Laporte tonight when they started talking about some very relevant stuff to my research! Here’s the transcript of the 197th show.

They have a lot to say about the future of newspapers and what’s working and what isn’t working. It all stemmed from a story about a bunch of newspaper heads getting together to figure out how they can make the public pay for content.

Leo LaporteWell, that kind of to lead us to story one of the week, which was the old guys getting together colluding trying to get you to pay for content. What happened, Jeff, what was going on? Boy there was a lot of talk about it on Twitter, Jay Rosen and you were going back and forth. What was the event?

Jeff JarvisThere was a meeting, brought together by the Newspaper Association of America and it probably would have been less suspicious if we’d known about it ahead but they got together in a cruddy motel in Chicago area, because that’s all they can afford now.

Leo Laporte It’s like the Sopranos, where families were meeting.

Jeff JarvisAnd they were met by a couple of companies, yes, that are trying to start ways to pay for content. And I am not against paying if you can do it but I’ve argued that by trying to pay you – put your content behind a wall, you’ll lose Google Juice, you’re out of the conversation. But these guys are trying to preserve the little they know of the old world and the new world and they don’t understand the link economy. So I think we are going to see a lot of papers that are going to try to charge, I know entrepreneurs who’ve said good, please do that because it will kill you sooner and we can come in afterwards.

This young guy James Kotecki who did all kinds of wonderful things during the campaign made a video saying please, charge and then you’ll all be gone. And I am afraid it’s going to hasten their deaths.

Leo Laporte They just don’t get it.

Jeff Jarvis No, and I think the other problem is there’s an anti-trust issue. I went and looked up the data on – the information on the FTC site about what does it mean to be anti-competitive and the very definition of it is to…….

Leo Laporte Get it together in a motel in Chicago.

Jeff Jarvis Right, what a better place to do it. So they are all going to raise prices and I am afraid they’re all going to get sued.

Leo LaporteYes, yes, and what’s interesting is how it came out and how publicly it became and this is an example where Twitter really exposed this very quickly and got a conversation going as I am not fond of the conversation on Twitter. It’s kind of a limited situation. But at least it was there and it was happening.

Jeff JarvisJames Warren who used to be an editor on the Chicago Tribune got the entire agenda and he put it up on a blog before hand and then it spread on Twitter like that.

Leo Laporte Like wild fire. Yes.

Don TapscottYou know what this thing whole thing reminds me of. This monetization of content, I just got to asked to speak at a conference on this topic and it’s sort of like trying to create a movie by filming a stage play basically. That these people are trying to take their old model and just run it on a new platform and get people to pay for it, when really GNet should have invented the Huffington Post and NBC should have invented YouTube and AT&T should have invented Twitter and Yellow Pages should have invented Craigslist.

Leo LaporteIt strikes me that’s a very difficult thing to do because your business model is based around dead trees or whatever and it’s very hard to change a business model in the middle. Gina, you’re going to say something, I am sorry…

Gina TrapaniYes, I just kind of agree, I mean, I think that Clay Shirky’s piece on this was so good. And that it shouldn’t be about preserving a business model, it should be about preserving journalism, right, and like how is that going to happen.

Leo Laporte Yes, fight for journalism not for newspapers.

Gina TrapaniRight, exactly, exactly, I mean, of course I feel bad for people who are going to lose their jobs and all those things. But, I mean, I don’t know. It’s kind of the laws of evolution.

Leo Laporte Are they going to lose their jobs, I mean – does it mean they are out of business?

Jeff JarvisWell, a lot are. But I met with some people last week like Debbie Galant who runs Baristanet, New Jersey and there’s 40 people from The Star-Ledger who are now starting their own blog. I’m running a project in new business models for news. I think that hyperlocal bloggers and interest bloggers can make a living at it. Gina has, TechCrunch has in the tech area. But I think it will happen in our towns as well.

There are going to be independent agents not working for a big company and that’s hard. But I do think that there is a market demand for journalism and the market will meet it.

Leo Laporte Do they do that by charging for content like the newspapers?

Jeff Jarvis No.

Leo Laporte No.

Jeff Jarvis News ads.

Gina Trapani Yeah, they are doing ads.

Jeff Jarvis And none of them better at selling ads.

Leo Laporte Yes.

Gina TrapaniYes, I mean, I think it’s important to remember that starting a small company like Gawker and paying bloggers like me to write Lifehacker and Gizzmodo and even TechCrunch is just a small company. Things aren’t so easy there either. Advertising – it’s a struggle there too but we don’t have the infrastructure that newspapers do. So I don’t know. Gawker just had this thing happen this week where they started selling, they basically sponsored a separate blog and was putting posts on Gawker blogs that look like ads, but weren’t marked as such. So there’s much like experimentation going on and lots of pushing the envelope, but things aren’t exactly easy. The answer isn’t like ‘oh, just these little companies spring up and there should be bloggers and the advertising will pay.’ There are a lot of challenges there too. I think it’s important to remember.

Jeff Jarvis But you’re right, Gina, that the cost structure, having 300 people in a news room, a lot of people who just put out the paper or another movie critic or another golf columnist. You have to – the link economy of the internet demands that you specialize and that you do something really well. To do the same stuff everybody else does? There’s no value in that.

Gina Trapani Agreed.

Don Tapscott Yes, like the one funding model that’s of interest: to preserve The New York Times in its existing form is of course that it become an NGO.

Leo Laporte A non-governmental organization?

Don Tapscott Yeah, like a foundation. And these exist. There are foundations that support this.

Leo Laporte A non-profit basically.

Don Tapscott Yeah. And I think it was Geffen who was trying to – do you know – did that happen?

Leo Laporte He was going to try and buy it or fund it.

Don Tapscott He was going to invest a couple of hundred million and the idea was not as an actual investment.

Leo Laporte But here’s a guy steeped in the old business world. He may not be the right guy to do this, right?

Don Tapscott Yes.

Jeff JarvisBut Don, there was this great quote in the Times about a year ago, a young woman in college aged a little older than Jake who said ‘if the news is that important it will find me. ‘

Leo Laporte Right, yes.

Jeff JarvisAnd I am sure you found in your research that people just don’t have the same magnetic interaction with media that they have to go to the site anymore. Now they expect the site to come to them.

Leo Laporte They want it pushed not pulled.

Don TapscottYou know I had an amazing experience on this. I was chairing a panel of young people, it was a big crowd. It was like, I don’t know, 6,000 people in the audience and I was sort of socking the kids with these stereotypes about their generation. So I said to this one youngster by the name. By the way her name was Rahaf Harfoush, H-A-R-F-O-U-S-H.

Leo Laporte I know Rahaf, yeah.

Don TapscottYes. And she has a book that comes out tomorrow. And the book launch is in Toronto this week. I wrote the foreword to the book, but she was like 20 years old. She was born in Syria, she was in Paris studying; her boyfriend is in Toronto. So they turn on Skype all day long to keep their relationship going. So – and I put it to her about the media, I said ‘aren’t you the dumbest generation? You are ignorant, you don’t read the newspaper, you don’t watch the TV news. You get your news from Jon Stewart in the Daily Show on Comedy Central’ and she says back to me, she says ‘I don’t think that’s a fair stereotype of my generation. I think we are informed.’ She says ‘it’s true I don’t read the newspaper.’ She says ‘have you ever seen one of those things?’ They come out like once a day and they don’t have hyperlinks.

Leo Laporte How slow can you get?

Don Tapscott And they’re not multimedia and you get this weird black stuff all over your fingers.

Leo Laporte Have you ever tried one of those?

Don TapscottAnd then she makes this point about the news comes to me and she describes she’s got 60 RSS feeds and she says I like to triangulate the news to form my own opinions. She says ‘it’s true I watch the Daily Show but not to get the news.’ She says ‘the Daily Show isn’t funny unless you know the news’

Leo Laporte You have to know ahead of time, yeah.

Don Tapscott Yeah. So – but here’s a generation that’s interacting with media totally differently and…

Jeff Jarvis I can never beat Jake to a story.

Leo LaporteI was going to ask. Jake, you are our example, our exemplar of the new generation. How do you get your news? Do you – first of all do you care about the news?

Jake JarvisYeah. I figure if something big happens then I’ll hear about it on Twitter first or Facebook or through a friend. I always go to a news site or newspaper for more information. But the big news always comes to me first.

Leo LaporteYeah, I’m a FriendFeed fanatic and it’s an aggregator of all of that stuff and it’s real time, it’s scrolling up on the screen and it is more efficient, but it’s not in depth. So you do have to then pursue the links down and this is, the question is, well who’s going to do the in-depth reporting? Who’s going to create the content that all these quick feeds lead to? Aren’t we losing kind of the base, the source of all of this stuff if we say ‘oh who needs newspapers?’

Jeff JarvisWell Leo, I think you will have. The problem is we assume that you’re going to have kind of a single new product replacing the single old product. We are not; we are going to have an ecosystem of news with many players. There will be hyperlocal bloggers and interest bloggers like Gina and there will be, I believe, some level of publicly supported journalism, not necessarily taking over the whole New York Times which I think can still be a business but things like The Huffington Post Investigative Unit and ProPublica and Spot.us

Leo Laporte Does the Huffington Post really have an investigative unit? Come on.

Jeff Jarvis Yes!

Leo Laporte Really?

Jeff Jarvis They just got $1.3 million and they hired away the editor in charge of investigations of the Washington Post.

Leo Laporte Well, that’s very encouraging in that case. I mean that’s extremely – that’s extraordinarily good. You have seen this site, allvoices. This was an interesting idea. It was kind of an open media site encouraging people all around the world to contribute to it. I really like the idea behind it but they have had some struggles. I mean not all the content has been great on here. We need some editorial control, don’t we or is that old school too. Is that…

Don Tapscott I think it is old school. You know Wikipedia doesn’t have editorial control.

Leo Laporte There’s nobody in charge.

Don Tapscott And there is wisdom in the crowd if you’ve set the context right. The crowd can be really stupid if you don’t have the right context as well but I wonder about something like the Huff. Like this is – this has got a lot of traction now and when I write something on the Huffington Post, I typically get a better reaction than I do if I write in the New York Times.

Leo Laporte A smarter reaction and more active…

Don Tapscott No, just a bigger reaction.

Leo Laporte Bigger.

Don Tapscott And – it’s very – it’s a lot savvier too actually if you think about it and it’s valuable for me to do that. I wonder if they could start charging people like me, charging the writers.

Leo LaporteDon’t say that. Don’t. Stop Don before he kills again! So Jake, do you then, okay so you’re following Twitter. You’ve seen the headlines, you click through to the links and read the stories in depth, I mean do you spend as much time reading as if you were reading a newspaper.

Jake Jarvis I think so. I’ve never really read a newspaper much.

Leo Laporte I love it.

Jake Jarvis The thing is I can choose what I’m interested in and read into that as much as I want to.

Leo LaporteHow about this issue Jake that people say that you’re only going to pursue things that are consistent with your point of view and you’re not going to get serendipitous other points of view? What do you say about that?

Jake JarvisI think it’s hard to avoid things that you don’t agree with online. I mean you’re always going to run into things that don’t go with your views and I don’t know I find that interesting, I don’t know if anyone else does.

Leo LaporteI have to confess though that I look on FriendFeed and I’ll block people who are really virulently right wing because I’m virulently left wing and it does concern me. Is it important to train people to seek out other opinions? What do we have to teach people like Jake as they grow up in this environment where we don’t have these other, there isn’t any serendipity or is there maybe there is?

Leo Laporte Well, I think Jake makes a good point actually that I mean like how do you stay away from Fox News? I mean it’s everywhere.

Leo Laporte It’s everywhere.

Leo LaporteAnd I was in Wyoming last week and I met someone who said her parents just turn it on in the morning and they watch it all day long and it might explain why we have some problems in the world but they are going to bump into it. On the other hand, I think that it’s a good point that we need to like this is the first time in history when young people are in authority about something real important

Leo Laporte We got an 18-year-old, or a 17-year-old on the show. I mean my daughter was just on!

Don Tapscott I was an authority on model trains when I was 11.

Leo Laporte I was collecting stamps.

Don Tapscott Today the 11-year-old at the breakfast table is an authority on this thing that’s changing every institution. But just because they’re an authority on something doesn’t mean they are an authority on everything and there’s certain things – I think that it makes sense that we would sort of build training programs or certain educational programs into our schools like, just something like privacy. That worries me a lot.

Leo Laporte Right.

Jeff JarvisDon I think that media literacy isn’t just about consuming media now. It’s also about creating media and what happens when you do.

Don Tapscott Yeah, that’s a great –

Leo LaporteWell, in fact you can’t, you know if you’re – Facebook’s a really good example. You don’t just get to sit and passively consume Facebook. If you don’t contribute to it, you’ve got nothing. Modern media like Twitter, Facebook and so forth requires participation as much as consumption. I love that.

Jeff Jarvis It’s the only way you connect to people.

Leo Laporte Yeah, I love that.

Jeff JarvisYou can’t connect unless you reveal something of yourself and that scares people my age, but the young people, that’s how they interact and I think it actually will be healthy because they will be connected with friends for the rest of their lives.

…And then they start talking about web privacy and social media. Worth listening to the whole episode if you’re interested.

So it seems that the death knoll for newspapers could be ringing if you agree with some of the people on this episode of TWIT. But there are lots and lots of opportunities for niche content producers. It’s just instead of getting paid for what you write, ads will probably be paying people’s income.


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