Three journalists seek the future

Three smart young journalists I know are leaving their jobs and returning to school to study journalism’s future. If I were still the editor of a newspaper and one of them worked for me, I would mourn the loss of a good reporter. But I’m not. I’m hopeful that they will do more than study the future. I’m hopeful that they will create something new, not just for themselves, but for all of us. I told her what I would study if I were returning to school..

1. Money. Enough people are looking at the future of reporting the news, of figuring out how to reach people. While that’s what interests journalists, don’t go there. Look at the other side of the equation — the revenue. Where is the money going to come from to produce the strong public service journalism we want? Many have suggested solutions, and some are even trying them with varying degrees of success. But what that says to me is that the best solutions are still out there. If I were returning to school, I would study how to make good money practicing journalism.

2. Community. Traditional news organizations lost their built-in headstart to be the community’s place to be when Facebook came along. But Facebook is vulnerable because of its immense size, because of its insistence to do things that annoy its users and because it’s now a publicly traded company with all the profit pressures that brings. It’s not unthinkable that it could go the way of MySpace. Competitors are popping up all the time. What is the next Pinterest? It’s out there. I think someone can concoct the magic formula that melds journalism and community with connective tissue that is  valuable, informative and profitable.

3. Mobile. It is the future of media. Baby Boomers, who were once the core loyal newspaper and TV audience, are dropping subscriptions and appointment TV news watching and going mobile. That should scare news execs in the same way they should have been scared — but weren’t — when they heard about Craigslist. While some media have figured out how to do mobile effectively — Netflix, for instance — news organizations haven’t. (By effectively, I mean not only delivering a good product to people who want it, but also making money doing it.) Yes, there is cost to mobile and the ROI isn’t immediately apparent. But the ROI of YouTube wasn’t apparent until it was purchased by Google for a couple billion dollars. There’s opportunity. Why let the next Zuckerberg or Brin or Newmark get their there first?

I was going to add a fourth. I was going to suggest she examine why media ownership has been so resistant to understanding or accepting where the business is and what is coming down the road. I was going to suggest that she start with Media General’s CEO, who said that it wasn’t until last year — last year! — that they realized newspaper world had changed. But I decided that topic had been hashed over and resolved by many, and it was more of a psychosociological study, anyway. Besides, SchoolhouseRock teaches that three is a magic number.

I don’t know that these are the best three. What would YOU study?

3 thoughts on “Three journalists seek the future

  1. John, three good pursuits. Let’s hope we have some enterprising grad students who take you up on these. I’m not surprised by the MG exec’s comments but would say that there are many in news business who still have not come to that conclusion. The recession has hurt newspapers, yes. But, not all will return to pre-recession when, and if, it ends. Looking forward to seeing you in Carroll Hall this fall.

  2. (Jumping up and down) I loved “Schoolhouse Rock.” True story, I interviewed the jazz pianist Bob Dorough who wrote “Three is a Magic Number” and other Schoolhouse Rock tunes. BTW, perhaps it’s fitting that the advertising guru David McCall of “Maxwell House Good to the Last Drop” fame was the idea man behind the series. If I remember the story correctly, his son was having trouble learning his multiplication tables but had no trouble learning the words to rock songs. So McCall took his idea to the ad agency’s creative directors, who hired Dorough and the rest is history.

    I’m no longer just a newspaper.
    Yes, I’m no longer just a newspaper.
    And you’ll find me on multiple platforms.

    OK, that is just SOOO bad!!

    In all seriousness, I’m trying to do the best work I can so that people see value in my work. And, yes, are willing to pay for it.

    Good thoughts, my friend.

  3. eek! #correction please: Why let the next Zuckerberg or Brin or Newmark get THERE first? Great three points… I’d add learn how to write across all these platforms. They all require something different, whether it be writing style or level of detail or timeline… and they all require journalists to ‘sell themselves,’ as it were. Not sell OUT, but knowing how to be flexible, and be more aware of the changing markets than the owners of traditional media have been, and know that, as in so many other fields, you won’t be finishing a lengthy career at the same paper (or site, or blog, or whatever) that you started up with. Can you tackle visuals, and words, and be constantly updating your skills?

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