Survival of the legacy — plus a TV idea (a long post, sorry)

How can legacy news media survive? Does it come down to the ingenuity of tech geeks in labs with elongated due dates, churning out innovative web designs that lure audiences?

The Columbia Journalism Review recently published a new report: Post Industrial Journalism: Adapting to the Present.

The report concluded that:  “no matter what model of subsidy the American journalism industry adopts, it will be unable to replicate the money generated by the mass-advertising subsidy of previous decades. Instead, given that industry restructuring is a forced move, we have tried to understand how media organizations both old and new can take advantage of new opportunities to do good journalism in new ways. […]

There’s no way to look at organizations as various as the Texas Tribune, SCOTUSblog and Front Porch Forum or such platforms as Facebook, YouTube and Storify and see anything like coherence. There’s no way to look at new experiments in nonprofit journalism like Andy Carvin’s work at NPR during the Arab Spring and convince yourself that journalism is securely in the hands of for-profit businesses. And there’s no way to look at experiments in funding journalism via Kickstarter, or the coverage of protest movements via mobile phone, and convince yourself that making information public can be done only by professionals and institutions.”

Finally a report that matches my cynicism. Journalists matter, they are needed, but the business model on which they rely is extinct.

ADWeek’s article spoke to “the Sisyphean task of developing tech innovations and new business models to help the struggling Times weather an uncertain future.” The reliance of legacy companies to create tech programs geared toward licensing and monetization. However, those tech programs inevitably create friction with the company, as engineers are given longer due-dates, more leeway to fail multiple times, and more money. Journalists, doing actual reporting, under traditional deadlines, are stressed and irritated.

Legacy companies are in branding crisis it seems — they higher innovative people to do new things that confuse the standing and legitimacy of the old. Atavist recently retooled The Atavist, “a nice external marker of the company’s shift into being a technology platform that happens to publish stories, rather than a publisher of stories that happens to have some technology.” In fact, The Atavist seems quite similar to Editions —  proving all these companies are grappling for footing on ground that has yet to be solidified.

The solutions in “Post Industrial Journalism: Adapting to the Present,” hinge on three things:

  1. Greater specialization for journalists
  2. The support and creation of new institutions which can match the leverage of the old
  3. Collaboration across institutions and between individuals to be the journalistic rule rather than the exception

 My thoughts: 

In class the other night — when we were discussing what the role of news channels were, and I was stead-fast in my belief that the purpose was to educate the masses on facts and events that they might not know about or have access to, regardless of whether or not they were polled as popular  — I began to think of the influence of the web on the TV. Online papers have verticals that easily draw the attention of any given person: sports, health, environment, culture, religion, politics, etc… Why don’t news networks do this as well? Sure any given program covers these range of things, but why don’t they make their programming schedule reflective of online verticals?

If you look at the CNN line-up (and I don’t mean to pick on CNN) it goes:

  • Early Start
  • Soledad O’Brien – today’s news and events around the world
  • CNN Newsroom – news around the world
  • Newsroom International – news around the world
  • CNN Newsroom – news around the world
  • Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer – political news and international events
  • Erin Burnett OutFront  – “getting to the bottom line to the front line”
  • Anderson Coop 360  – various views on the news
  • Pirers Morgan Tonight

…and that’s the entire schedule, which repeats itself the next day. What if, instead of the hours of “news around the world,” CNN had shorter, but more specific and specialized programming? That way, even if someone were at work, and couldn’t watch the TV at that exact hour – there would be a short program (that could surely be found online) that specialized in an area they were really interested in (a vertical like technology, or health, or climate change) – and they would know exactly when to tune in. Then one hour or half an hour or even two, could be specifically dedicated to stories that everyone should know about – chosen by the editorial staff.

Just a thought.

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