Saturday, January 10, 2009

Saving newspapers?

I'm at the "Future of the Media Industry" conference in Baltimore, sponsored by The Newspaper Guild (and a couple other CWA sectors).
Lots of interesting stuff here, and a lot of optimism despite all the bad news about our industry.
One interesting talk today was a talk by a University of California-Davis professor about how newspapers need to adapt to the change in the weather.
To conclude, he ended with a quote from Clarence Darrow (often attributed to Charles Darwin, must be the initials), that the element of the species that survives isn't the strongest or the most intelligent (sorry newsies), but the most adaptable.
But two things stuck with me -- first of all, the newspaper industry IS NOT going to be saved by college professors (sorry academia).
The other thing was his push to "customize" the "news" we provide -- via the web, of course.
Customizing, of course, is just another way for people to cherry pick the information they gather. Now, of course, this will have people going to your site.
And that's what you want.
But the bigger issue is my favorite theme -- the more information out there, the less informed people are.
Providing them with just the information they want limits the information they gather. People become less and less informed. The news industry erodes and newspapers -- which provide a wide range of news (all the news that's fit to print) -- become obsolete. So we end up destroying ourselves.
And forget about the fact that the line between "news" and advertising, which supports and, in many cases sponsors, these web pages -- totally erodes.
Once newspapers, which provide all the info about what your local government, police, hospitals, fire departments, schools, etc., is doing, whether you want it or not, go away, there is no watchdog over government. You don't have to want to read or, or even read it.
We just have to be there to cover it.
And that, my friends, is the first erosion of our democracy.
As melodramatic as that sounds, there it is.
And while it seems that by resisting the customizing the customer wants is not adapting, and therefore destroying the industry, I say we must learn to "give the reader (surfer) what he wants" without limiting the information.
The news industry must find a away to adapt without giving in to the increasing intellectual laziness of the people.


df said...

Is it possible there will come a readers' backlash against Web-only news? A realization among even young people that newsPAPERS are in many ways superior to Google News, etc.? That they are easier to read, more interestingly arranged (you can actually benefit from seasoned editors' judgment about what's important and interesting), super-portable and cut-out-able, and keep you in touch with a broader geographical community, not just your own little narrow group of trendy rap-band listeners?
Probably not.
But you, "Got a Head," are absolutely right about the limits of tailor-made news.

Maureen Milliken said...

As the self-declared expert that I am, I can respond to your questions - absolutely not.
It's up to the media industry to self-regulate and begin to bring real news covers and ethics to the internet age.
If that's possible.

Matt McSorley said...

As usual, you are right about this. However, the whole discussion doesn't speak to one crucial element: Someone has to figure out how to make enought money selling news in this brave new world to employ folks like us. No one yet has any notion of how this will happen. Until then, the newgathering industry will sadly continue its sad collapse.