Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

A 'Tumultuous Decade' Rolls On... More Lost Generations Of Journalists

Posted by Tom Foremski - November 3, 2016

Uncertain 2

Journalism’s uncertain future

This book looks interesting- Journalism’s Lost Generation: The Un-Doing of U.S. Newspaper Newsrooms by Scott Reinardy, a journalism professor at the University of Kansas.

Deron Lee at CJR, writes

When Scott Reinardy began studying the state of morale in newspaper newsrooms more than 10 years ago...He didn’t know the industry was about to enter a traumatic period of upheaval that would deplete the ranks of journalists around the country and force newspapers to reassess their mission...in that tumultuous decade.

Reinardy interviewed hundreds of journalists and surveyed thousands more.

[He] heard stories of uncertainty, anxiety, and burnout. Tens of thousands of layoffs and buyouts and an evolving, still unsettled business model have created what he calls a “lost generation” of journalists.


[Please see:What a Kansas professor learned after interviewing a ‘lost generation’ of journalists]

I tried warning people. A decade ago I was asking,

"What if the old media dies before the new media learns how to walk?"

I could see the digital revenue chasm looming for newspapers and I knew it would be a devastating challenge. There’s a wonderful American expression: You can’t get there from here. 

Follow the money...down

My insight at that time derived from my recent experience of moving from a newspaper job at the Financial Times, to publishing SiliconValleyWatcher.com. Follow the money and you find the story. There’s a lot less money in digital media - advertising earns one-tenth of paper and the move to mobile has decimated that revenue stream yet again.

Journalists hate to think about the commercial activities of their employer and have traditionally considered it a moral and ethical duty to be totally ignorant of newspaper economics. I find the economics of the media industry fascinating.

I tried to warn my colleagues about the years of misery ahead. Some of my friends lost their jobs, some didn't. But surviving in the newsroom meant constant uncertainty and terrible morale.

Disruptive technologies disrupt...

Warnings are useful only when you have a choice. Sometimes there's not much you can do.

The problem with facing a disrupting business model is that you are in the way — no matter which way you turn. There's not much you can do. Disruptive technologies disrupt.

The New York Times, and the Guardian are two examples of newspapers that have taken bold steps in digital initiatives, innovative reporting formats and pioneering risky new digital revenues such as native advertising. But both are still struggling and more job cuts are in the works.

Digital ads, subscriptions, tech initiatives cannot stem further damage to journalism. The "tumultuous decade" won't stop. There’s nothing to stop it because there’s no sign of a stable business model on any horizon. There continues to be rapid deflation in the main revenue streams for news media — both in paper and digital ads.

We have failed to construct a sustainable economy around a vital resource.

Is it a failure of innovation? More likely, innovation requires stable and predictable markets to disrupt. Media markets are done for — there's more opportunities for innovation in industries not yet digitized.

High-tech media companies such as Google and Facebook are creating the advertising deflation. But they can ride the waves of the deflationary media business models because technology itself becomes cheaper and better; and it scales and changes faster than people.

Traditional news media relies on people and original reporting and creativity — a newspaper would not print screenshots of a rival newspaper — the Googlebot does and its why its ads are cheaper.

Ghost generation...

The Internet is an extraordinary publishing technology and high quality news journalism is vital to society. So why have we failed to invent a sustainable business model for professional journalism?

We must find a solution soon. A ghost generation will soon replace this lost generation of journalists — then who will teach the new media how to walk?

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