Why journalists need to stop playing catch-up, start focusing on the next news model

News organizations won’t stay afloat and continue to provide an essential service to democracy because the public suddenly values what they’ve been selling.

They’ll stay afloat because forward-thinking leaders will make sure the news organizations are damn good at the next news model, and the next one after that. Someone is going to figure out every new model for news distribution, whether it’s tomorrow’s model or 2050’s model.

Who will figure it out? I’d much prefer it be the the journalists who have the ethical standards and story-telling skills that have long thrived. I’d much prefer it be the organizations that can maintain journalism as a decently-paid profession, attracting intelligent people to the career.

But that’s not a given, and that’s not such a bad thing. It’s not a bad thing for the public that Twitter is better for breaking news than a newspaper; it’s just a bad thing for journalists that they didn’t create Twitter first.

So journalists: Let’s stop complaining about the fact that we’re getting our asses whooped at today’s news model.

Let’s just get on top of the next one.

I’ve come to see that catch-up is a silly game to play. I’m tired of reading blogs that don’t engage the readers in conversation, of breaking news that isn’t really breaking, of static storytelling when two-way storytelling is desperately needed. These are all concepts that the Internet public has mastered without the help of news organizations.

This round is over. Journalists lost.

But lucky for journalists, there are plenty more rounds to come. Time to invest our money and expertise into focusing on the next ones.

You know, while we still have some money and expertise left.

This is far from an anti-blogger screed, or any indication of journalistic arrogance. The next news model will utilize what the bloggers have done well (immediacy, diversity, voice) and lend to it what the institution of journalism has historically done well (accuracy, authority, ethics). Then we’ll add some new virtues into the fold (aggregation, curation, community-building).

What that next news model will be is a question for people far smarter than I, but I personally believe the prize will go to whoever can master those new virtues. And there’s no reason why news organizations, with their deep pockets, highly skilled journalists and histories in their communities, can’t lead the way.

Here’s the good news: This doesn’t require massive firings that suck the life out of the print product, and it doesn’t even require you to sell your entire newsroom on these new models. Those who have been carelessly labeled as “curmudgeons” can keep their opinions of the Web as long as they keep doing what they do best: Supporting the print product that still pays everyone else’s salary.

This works as long as you have others at the newspaper who are focused on innovation. Those people ought to be identified (or hired), given the space and time they need, then set loose to experiment.

The focus on today’s news model — and quite often yesterday’s — can at best slow the decline of news organizations. It’s not even doing that particularly well. When every newspaper of every size places innovation at a higher priority, even if it slightly dents the print product, we’ll have a collection of minds that’d have to be considered the favorite to find the next model.

  • Pingback: Notes from a Teacher - Monday squibs()

  • “The next news model will utilize what the bloggers have done well (immediacy, diversity, voice) and lend to it what the institution of journalism has historically done well (accuracy, authority, ethics). Then we’ll add some new virtues into the fold (aggregation, curation, community-building).”

    Right on, my journo friend. Well said.

  • Pingback: Strange Attractor » Blog Archive » links for 2008-12-30()

  • Question, though. Do you think it will be the “old” news organizations that achieve the radical transformation they need, or is it more wise (as a journalist) to invest your time in a “new” news startup?

  • Daniel — Very interesting question. I dealt more with the “should” than the “will.”

    If I had to bet, I wouldn’t put my money on the news organizations, based on the performance thus far. I just think the potential is there for them to grab it and do it well, and you need innovators to make that happen.

    So I’m not sure which course is wiser. Me, I’m trying my best to enact change from within the behemoth and I intend to keep doing that, but if I came out of college today I’m not sure I’d make the same decision. This could be a good TNTJ topic?

  • Well, the “new virtues” you mentioned are things that the internet is much better at than the MSM… so I think that the internet will keep doing what it’s good at but eventually the large news corps will adopt the practices that have done well.

    Unless Google takes over the world first.

  • The problem right now, imo, is the fear of losing what little revenue news organizations can count on making. If they decide to change things, they may come out worse financially and have to fold. That’s pretty scary to everybody who relies on newspapers to pay their bills.

    That said, I totally agree with your assessment here. Journalists may have to leave the bureaucracies of newspapers and develop a new model on their own, though.