In March, 2007 the Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) hosted a panel (audio available here) with Steven Rattner, Jim Brady, Amanda Bennett, Jill Abramson, and Robert Kuttner (with Nicholas Lemann moderating). The purpose was to discuss an article the CJR had commissioned Robert Kuttner’s to write on the future of print media where he essentially argued that the then status quo of print-digital hybrids would ensure newspapers’ survival.
The CJR which was interested in the perspective of bloggers and so invited Taylor Owen to respond. Working in partnership with David Eaves, the two ended up collaborating and ultimately ended up writing a much longer piece than was anticipated. Entitled Missing the Link, this site is a home to that piece.
Instead of reading the piece here you can download a copy as a PDF: Missing the Link: Why Old Media Still Doesn’t Get the Internet (PDF).
Missing the Link: Why Old Media still doesn’t get the Internet
This month, prominent political blogger Josh Marshall was awarded a prestigious George Polk journalism award. While recognition for his blogging comes as no surprise, that the accolades originated in the hollowed halls of traditional print journalism marks a notable moment in the decade old battle between “old” and “new” media. Today the battle is still being fought increasingly, but quietly, between the print and online departments of newspapers around the world. But the divide between “new” media of blogs and “old” media of newspapers is largely mythical and increasingly being bridged by practitioners like Marshall. What we can learn from them is essential to the future of print journalism.
However hard newspaper editors and journalism may complain, it is clear that blogging is here to stay, and that the practice of journalism has only benefited from their proliferation. Unfortunately, despite its exponential growth, blogging continues to be misunderstood by both technophiles and technophobes. For the past decade the former have maintained that blogs will replace traditional journalism, ushering in an era of citizen-run media. Conversely, the latter have argued that a wave of amateurs threatens the quality and integrity of journalism—and possibly even democracy. Both are wrong.
Blogging is not a substitute for journalism. If anything, this past decade shows that blogging and journalism are symbiotic and mutually beneficial. Admittedly, many in the newspaper industry have been loath to embrace emerging technologies. Most have been reluctant and highly conservative in adopting online strategies. As a result, few have generated sustainable revenue or successfully fought the decentralization of news content creation.
The consequences of this misguided strategy were exacerbated in a recent issue of the Columbia Journalism Review, in which Robert Kuttner, a seasoned traditional media hand, argued that a print-digital hybrid model, one that simply transitioned content and advertising assets online, would save the newspaper business. This approach, and the highly flawed analysis that underlies it, misses the tremendous opportunity embodied in internet-based journalism. What’s more, in lieu of bridging the tired paradigmatic chasm between the rhetorical positioning of old and new media, Kuttner’s article turned a blind eye to the many challenges facing the world of print journalism, further exacerbating the false dichotomy.
Worse still, if this is best thinking traditional media has on how to reconcile traditional print and New Media, then the entire industry is in worse trouble then most people already fear. Kuttner’s piece offered no innovations and his grand prescription—the print-digital hybrid model—simply advocated reproducing print content on proprietary web pages and adjusting the advertising revenue model. This however is already the online strategy of almost every major daily. In most newspapers the online revenue generated by this strategy has yet to compensate for falling print revenue, and it remains far from certain that it will succeed, especially once print media’s core market, baby-boomers, stop buying newspapers. To avid news consumers such as ourselves, his central message—that times are tough, but don’t worry, we’re on the right track—is deeply troubling.
This piece is thus an effort to bridge the divide perpetuated by Kuttner’s analysis. To both remind the newsprint journalism industry of the challenges posed by New Media as well as articulate the enormous opportunity being created. It is one thing for an outgoing generation of media barons to misunderstand New Media and what it means for their business. It is quite another to have this perspective shape the choices of a generation whose careers will be shaped by New Media.
The future of traditional news institutions in a New Media world is far from certain, but they can survive if they correctly identify their core competencies and are ruthlessly disciplined in shedding or altering everything else. New Media is good at many things, but not everything. Our research indicates that the New Media’s weakest attributes happen to be the things traditional media does best. However, by failing to understand and focus on these core competencies, traditional media risks losing sight of its real value. Capitalizing on their narrow, but critical, utility could provide direction to the struggling industry.
So what is going on? And what should traditional media do about it? In order to ascertain this we will first outline seven lessons traditional newspapers can learn from New Media and the internet. Charting this landscape will enable us to identify the core competencies of the newspaper industry. Drawing from these lessons we will then outline three principles that must frame a competitive strategy to ensure traditional media’s survival. Despite fatalistic predictions, traditional media’s survival is both important and possible. However, success will require substantially more dramatic changes than those prescribed by traditionalists such as Kuttner.