Creative Destruction in the Newspaper Industry

I saw two things today that somehow connected in my mind. The first was an advert for scholarships for computer programmers to Northwestern’s journalism school (link):
Are you a skilled programmer or Web developer? Are you interested in applying your talents to the challenge of creating a better-informed society? Do you want to learn how to find, analyze and present socially relevant information that engages media audiences? Do you see possibilities for applying technology as a way to connect people and information on the Web or new delivery platforms?

The second item was the announcement that one of Seattle’s two major daily newspapers is up for sale and that it will probably cease as a printed paper no matter what happens:
For sale: The P-I

There are a few things to think about here. A simple one is that the printed newspaper as a product is obviously headed for oblivion. The web is far superior at news delivery, especially extended coverage of breaking news (television isn’t good at the “extended” part). Even the bad part of electronically delivered news (reading off a computer screen) has solutions on the near term horizon (e-book readers). You could say that the journalism school is ahead of the game here, looking to turn programmers into journalists who “get” the future of journalism.

I wonder why anyone would be looking to journalism as a second career at this point though. I can understand that the current upheaval in the computer industry would make a career change attractive, but what we got going in IT ain’t nothin’ compared to the outright carnage happening in journalism.

There is an open question about what is the future of journalism: is it trained journalists researching stories or is it bloggers and “citizen journalists” doing it on their own? I’ve never been one to think that interested amateurs can completely replace experienced professional writers, and I still feel that way. The big stories require real journalists, sniffing out the stories over long periods of time and really getting to the bottom of the issues. However, 95% of professional journalism isn’t that. It’s coverage of city council meetings and the daily reportage that some people care a lot about, some people care a little about and the rest of the people care very little about. Those kinds of things are perfect for the interested and excited amateurs and it is that where the blogging community has been eating away at the journalism community. Without young reporters getting their start on that daily grind kind of stuff, however, I’m not sure how folks become the in-depth-extended-research kinds of reporters.

I honestly don’t think that the future of journalism is going to come from the programmers (even those with masters degrees in journalism). I think it is going to come from the thousands of laid-off reporters being released into the world. I hope that many will start to explore the possibilities and I expect at least one will end up changing what journalism is as we know it.

Happy new year, here is to a better one

I realized today that I haven’t posted anything here in quite a while. Maybe it was a normal ebb in the blogging stream, but there is more to it than that.

Those that are parents are well aware of the ability of an a child to pull your head out of the echo chamber of your own thoughts. I certainly felt that effect this year.

Combine that with the rise of the microblogging, of which I am finding myself very fond. Twitter lets me make a simple declarative statement in 160 chars that I would have felt the need to write paragraphs explaining or reinforcing on this site. On twitter, I can just say “I like watching the CBC. Canadian commercials are just nicer.” If I posted that here, I’d need to explain why Canadian commercials are nicer and maybe track down some Canadian commercials on youtube to include or whatever. That is too much effort when there are diapers to change. I also like the immediacy of the microblogging, the responses and directs, the conversations spilling out across multiple people very quickly. I’ve also found that with my limited time, twitter/friendfeed/facebook have basically replaced my RSS reading for the most part. I’m getting the same information faster through twitter than I do through firing up my RSS reader. I would expect, for 2009, that you will see fewer posts here, but there will be much less “chaff” and more “wheat.” If you want the chaff, the random thoughts and weird ramblings, follow me on twitter.

I’m finding myself cautiously optomistic about this coming year, but much less optomistic than I have been for quite some time. The morass and decline in the country following eight years of George Bush’s presidency is unlikely to be cleaned up quickly, no matter what kind of wunderkind that Barack Obama turns out to be. Barack Obama’s appointments have been somewhat underwhelming so far, the “team of rivals” justification rings somewhat hollow given the political infighting that could arise. An inexperienced executive leading a team of rivals could be a recipie for disaster. I’m delighted with Obama’s victory and what that can mean for our country, but he is taking on a herculean task and he has raised expectations so high that it can all fall apart very quickly.

I want to start this year on a positive note (for a change). So, I hope that for anyone reading this that your 2009 is better than your 2008 was.