Commentary

Social Media's Impact On Journalism

Some time ago, a Michael Arrington post caught my attention. It asked, "If 'Real Journalism' Fails As A Business, Should Government Step In?" The question of what becomes of journalism in a new media world is something that has me worried (see: "All The News That's Fit To Monetize.")If, as is currently the case, sensationalism and scooping trump quality and social impact for driving traffic and monetization in new media, what becomes of journalism as we know it? It's a question that we are getting closer and closer to facing, if you consider the record decline in ad revenues stated in the latest newspaper print ad sales report.

Falling revenues from print advertising have led to more and more cost cutting, which adversely affects the quality of our news. Nick Davies, an investigative reporter for Britain's Guardian newspaper who has written a book on the subject, calls the effect "churnalism" -- the propensity for journalist to "recycle" news and press releases to meet new requirements to produce more stories, at the expense of more through research and creativity. Add to this the need to infuse more "pop culture" into news as link bait, and you have a potentially devastating combination.

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Erick Schonfeld is uniquely qualified as a former employee of Time Inc. and current writer for TechCrunch (one of the most influential blogs on the Web), to outline the ways in which traditional journalism is becoming more like blogging every day. From Eric's post: "Just as more and more blogs are building up professional writing staffs, more and more newspapers and magazines are requiring that their writers start blogging....

"Our philosophy is that it is better to get 70 percent of a story up fast and get the basic facts right than to wait another hour (or a day) to get the remaining 30 percent. We can always update the post or do another one as new information comes in. More often than not, putting up partial information is what leads us to the truth -- a source contacts us with more details or adds them directly into comments."

I agree that for blogging this is the most important aspect. It is why I have TechCrunch in my news feed, and start and end most days reviewing the latest. I do believe this is as much a form of journalism as anything in The New York Times or Time. And finally, Eric captures what might be the most important attribute of blogging as a new-media form of journalism: the conversation that happens around the story.

But blogging is only ONE type of journalism. It just happens to be the only journalistic form with the proper cost structure, content publishing rates and monetization capabilities to survive in the current new-media landscape.

As much as I survive on my blog news feeds, they can't be all there is. How will new media support the work of long-form journalism? This is the same issue that faces other forms of content that have survived in print and television, but have yet to find the right infrastructure in new media to support their costs. The business school in me hates that I would say this, but I don't think the potential need for government support of media should be dismissed so easily. As many replied to Arrington's post, it has worked in other countries.

There are start-ups trying to figure out how distribution and monetization of news can be more effective in new media. One model I find particularly interesting is that of Publish2. (Full disclosure: Robert Young, co-founder of Publish2, is currently a board member of my company.) The concept of journalists as a community themselves, responsible for aggregating work that they feel represents the best quality and highest impact on society, is a concept I like. The challenge to Publish2 is to get a critical mass of journalist engaged in the community (the No. 1 challenge for any social media company), which is followed by the second challenge of monetization.

Perhaps journalism as we have known it can be saved by embracing the social media system that today threatens its existence -- but the question is, how do we bridge the gap? I know (or maybe I just hope) that people want to be accurately and artfully informed of world issues besides what Paris Hilton had for breakfast, but if it doesn't make money in new media...

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