You can’t visit a journalism-related website lately without reading about how traditional media is suffering from money woes thanks to the web, or how bloggers and other forms of online news are forcing the “real journalists” out of their jobs. And you’ve probably heard how advertisers and marketers are flocking to the net in growing numbers.
So what’s the old media to do? Obviously newspapers and magazines are not going to pack it in and say “game over, you win” to the web, but clearly something has to change if they want to stick around. Today, Jeff Jarvis of Buzz Machine wrote about how reporters were calling for government support and funding from foundations or wealthy business moguls. Basically, they need a steady influx of cash to replace advertisers and customers lost to the internet, or as Jeff says, “fairy godmothers who will swoop in from government or foundations or rich families to provide magic money that lets them continue to do business as they have.” To put it succinctly, they are aiming for self-preservation, not innovation.
But the old ways of doing business can’t last forever, and trying to maintain a status quo that is tinged with nostalgia of the days before the web could be the end of many newspapers. An artificial financial boost is not the cure for the illness that is ailing old media right now – learning to adapt to the web, working to innovate and striving to move forward and reinvent journalism as it works within all the amazing technological developments that have occurred in the recent past (and of course, looking to the future as well) – this is what needs to happen, instead of companies just burying their heads in the sand, ostrich style.
While support from the government could possible bail a struggling paper out, this seems very dangerous. How will freedom of the press be affected when the government is funding it? It’s tough to imagine a scenario in which a certain level of objectivity isn’t sacrificed, and the ability of journalists to criticize the government and to hold politicians accountable for their actions has always been essential for democracy. Or do they plan to just leave the freedom of the press to bloggers? And how do they plan to maintain the trust of the general public when they are bankrolled by the very organizations they criticize and discuss in their pages?
What about funding from foundations? Clearly, this blog supports the Knight Foundation and their news challenge, but that encourages change and innovation. It’s about changing things for the better, not sticking with the status quo. Yes, sometimes foundation funding can mask a media outlet’s actual problems (because tossing money at an industry that can be hopelessly behind the times is a little like putting a band-aid on a bullet would), but if a foundation truly wants to foster innovation and growth, they can. However, relying on outside sources for cash is also risky, because it’s a quick fix for a bigger, more fundamental problem.
To conclude, I can’t say it better than Jeff:
“So rather than trying to find money to support the old ways artificially, we need resources to invent the new ways, the ones we don’t know yet. We need to take advantage of all the opportunities we have to gather and share news in new ways while preserving the best and most valuable of the old (and sloughing off the waste of the old). We need to explore new products and new business models and new relationships and we need to show that they are good investments, not charity cases.”