Saturday, April 25, 2009

and more on the future of news

Go here to read a speech delivered by HuffPo co-founder and chairman Kenneth Lerer to Columbia University's J-students Thursday night as part of the Journalism School's annual new media lecture series. He stresses that journalism is not going anywhere -- but the model has to change. Lerer taught an entreprenership class at the school this year.

What I find interesting is the fact that this kind of discussion never really took place when it should have -- ten years ago -- when "new media" actually was new. I also find it interesting that my intro j. kids -- "the architects of the change" -- have come up with as many, or more creative solutions after only four weeks on the job, er, in the class. Makes you wonder: where were the smart guys when we needed them?

While he encouraged the new generation of journalists to be creative, to find their own way to dig and deliver the news, he didn't say much about that other essential -- their paychecks.

From his speech (why i cannot get rid of the italics, i have no clue):

Not surprisingly, we're now in the midst of an industry-wide debate over what all this means for the future of news. Virtually everyone with a stake in journalism has weighed in. Some fear that journalism will vanish if papers no longer hit the doorstep. Others say that the delivery medium is meaningless; they don't care if news is printed, or not, as long as quality content remains. But the future of journalism is not dependent upon the future of newspapers and as all this is debated back and forth that's very important to remember.

The news business now faces real practical questions, such as how to pay for digital content and how to preserve standards online. But beyond these logistical challenges, we have to ask whether printed newspapers can remain relevant, or whether they're becoming anachronisms like paper checks and fax machines. And if digital news is the future, how much of the old system can we -- or should we -- preserve?


The reality is, in short, that newspapers followed their longtime customers down the rabbit hole and lost track of their future readers. They are scrambling to adapt, and everyone has a different idea about how to fix the problem.

I know for sure that no one idea is perfect, and no single idea will work instantly. This will be a difficult process that newspapers should have started for real years ago. That said, it's still doable if newspaper owners move away from their legacy business model, and if they follow what their consumers have come to want and expect from the Internet.

As a starting point, I think that online newspapers need to think of themselves as technology companies, as much as media companies. They need to recognize that new technologies have changed the culture of news, and that online readers want engagement instead of passive delivery. There is also the Internet culture and economy of linking online, a culture that newspapers need to accept (and see as an opportunity). And also, as a friend of mine at MTV said to me a few years ago, ubiquity is the new exclusivity. That means that news outlets need to get their content out there in as many places as they can.


And remember ubiquity is the new exclusivity. The way for newspapers to be somewhere is to be everywhere.

I want to stress again what I said to the student in Michael Shapiro's class many months ago. Journalism has a great future. It isn't going anywhere. Nothing could ever replace the invaluable role that journalists play in our society. And as the Internet grows, news will only improve... so become part of the future and jump in. The impact you can make today vs. just a few short years ago -- by breaking a story online, by creating a blog that will make a difference, by starting a site from scratch and being able to build a brand in one year is what it's all about. Sometimes I'm very jealous I'm not you 25 all over again. But just sometimes.

Finally, here's a post on the speech from's Alexandra Fenwick, who was there. A student at the J-School, she has a slightly different take on what Lerer had to say.

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