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With many proclaiming the death of print media and even online media reeling from recession, the future of journalism has never been more in question.

A lot of the discussion around the future of journalism has to do with business models and money. But is there more to the discussion of business models than how to generate revenue? Is it possible that the product of journalism needs to be reevaluated entirely?

According to L. Gordon Crovitz, the former publisher of The Wall Street Journal and current executive vice president of Dow Jones, the answer is 'yes'.

In an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal, he reminds us of the words of former Journal managing editor Bernard Kilgore: "It doesn't have to have happened yesterday to be news." Kilgore's thesis: people are interested in what happened yesterday, but they're more interested in what's going to happen tomorrow.

When Kilgore took over at the Journal, its primary reason for being (to report on the stock market and provide share prices) had been disrupted by the free availability of this information by the 'new media' of the day (radio). By the time today's Journal was printed, much of the information it provided was yesterday's news.

So Kilgore looked to tomorrow and reinvented the Journal to focus on what yesterday's news would mean to its readers going forward. It paid off. Other newspapers that Kilgore encouraged to take the same approach didn't heed his advice and some went out of business.

And so it goes that yesterday's news is today's news: today's traditional media must cope with new media and difficult economic circumstances. Thanks to the internet, breaking news is distributed in as close to real time as is possible and reports on current events have largely become commoditized. Yet while media businesses of all kinds struggle to monetize in this environment, Crovitz points out that not all traditional publishers are suffering.

He notes that The Economist is actually growing its print circulation. The key to its success? It doesn't just report on today's current events; it focuses on analyzing and discussing the implications of current events.

If The Economist can succeed by adding context to the news and helping its readers make sense of how yesterday's events will shape tomorrow's events, is it possible that all journalistic ventures, whether offline or online, should consider that their biggest problem is their product? Yes.

Aggressive legal stances, pay walls and content cartels may address the symptoms that so many publishers are facing today but if journalism is to have a solid foundation to stand on going forward, asking the simple question 'What do consumers want?' may provide the answer to everything else.

Photo credit: AdamL212 via Flickr.

Patricio Robles

Published 14 April, 2009 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments (2)

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Elizabeth Hodgson

While I recognize the issue in this blog focuses on established news organizations, it's often the smaller set-ups, like ours, who are trying out new journalistic approaches.

We're a UK-based fledgling global civic media site, so are not within the mainstream at this point, but what our site and scores of others are doing, our ideas, might be of relevance to them.

In fact, we launched public Beta V2 just 4 weeks ago but already we're recognized by MIT's Center for Future of Civic Media as a civic media innovator because of what we're creating.

When I meet with people and I explain our service, I often use the term 3D news - and by that I don't mean you don a pair of two-tone glasses and settle in front of your PC for some 50's-style news reel film.

3D news is this: you not only know the details of the past news (the who, what, when, where's etc) but also the why's and what happens next.

Our position always starts from the users perspective; they have told us how they want to engage with the site on different levels - be they as reporters, assigners, commentators, eyewitnesses, interviewees or simply readers.

Our system allows users to not only report but also set assignments and where appropriate, to connect stories together - link assignments with previous articles or interviews (infact our 'interview me' service matches expert insight with reporter's questions), build layers to their story, create depth and help the end-user understand the wider impact.

Organizing this has been tricky and by no means suggest we have the answer to the news industry's problems.

However our findings may be of value. We are trying new approaches and I believe we have the freedom to do this because we are independent. We can also think out of the box when it comes to trying out new commercial models and revenue streams.

In fact, sites like ours are like any new fashion, arts or music scene; we arrange tracks in new an interesting ways and see what comes out of the mix. In time perhaps the 'tracks' that work might be picked up by the mainstream and adopted to their audience.

We, and scores of other similar start-ups, are proof that innovation is alive and kicking. We're not waiting to be asked by established media organisations to come up with potential road maps. We're getting on with it. Some will succeed, some will not - but the mainstream press might do worse than start to engage the ‘indies’ within their locality, learn from them and invigorate their own approach to journalism.

over 7 years ago

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Andrew

great post. the analogy with radio is timely - sometimes people forget that newsprint has evolved through other media innovations. certainly quality journalism, in whatever form, has a place. my 2 cents about how this applys to journalism school students is at http://platform.idiomag.com/2009/04/you-want-to-be-a-journalist/

over 7 years ago

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