Margaret Sullivan wrote her first column for the Washington Post the other day, and I agree with it. Take a moment to read it. She encourages college students to go into journalism because it’s fun and important, and they need to save it.
“I’m especially drawn to the need for journalism that is transparent, honest, aggressive and deep, using all the new tools and with a great sense of openness on how to present the work to an ever-more-digital audience.
“As for the question of just how imprudent you need to be to get into this radically transformed business, I’ll say this much: Given the challenges, what’s needed most are journalists — of every age — who are willing to help figure out the future with passion, smarts and integrity.”
Yet, among the obstacles in their path are owners, publishers and editors who persist on milking everything they can out of the old models without investing any of it toward figuring out the future.
Is your daily newspaper better today than it was five or 10 years ago? Is it spending any money developing new ways to serve customers in ways the customers want or need? Or are the managers holding on to the idea that people will come back or that paywalls are the answer?
If the purpose of journalism is “to provide citizens with the information they need to make the best possible decisions about their lives, their communities, their societies, and their governments,” then many newspapers – and their bosses – are failing.
Today, Poynter published what it suggests is a blueprint for reinventing legacy newsrooms. It’s a good list based on actions taken by a few innovative newspapers. The items on the list aren’t new, however. Most have been around for years in one form or another. I’m glad it’s out there, and I hope that newspaper leaders will embrace the learning others are doing.
What keeps newspapers from making more progress? People have too much to do with too many competing priorities, of course. But too often people within the organizations don’t want to change, even now after a decade of declining readership and revenue. You’ll note in the Poynter story, editors talk about journalists being uncomfortable with change and of “letting go” of old routines. And these are at cool places that are creating the future. Imagine what’s happening where essentially no effort is being made to do anything more than produce a newspaper delivered to people’s driveways.
Want to help invent journalism for tomorrow? Hire the smart, passionate journalists with integrity to take the places of those who are comfortable with today.