Death of News Reporting?
Sasha Abramsky sees the eminent demise of journalism as we know it, as major papers eliminate their foreign news bureaus and online delivery makes news content “just another commodity.”
Too many people are now ditching their newspaper subscriptions, relying more heavily on internet publications and online clipping services. If these organisations were recreating their own news-gathering infrastructures, that wouldn’t necessarily be a problem. The flaw in the model, however, is that businesses like Yahoo rely on news bureaus run by newspapers and other traditional news organisations, in order to reap their own headlines. They then cull these stories for audiences to whom they distribute the information free of charge.
The model works well if people use Yahoo as a secondary source – to, say, get a quick glimpse at the latest news as a supplement to their morning paper – or if only a select few use it as a primary source for news. It works terribly if a critical mass of readers cancels their newspaper subscriptions and relies exclusively on the freebies available via the web. For at that point, the financial viability of the news organisations comes into question – as it has at the LA Times – and the possibility grows of a news-gathering infrastructure breakdown. If the LA Times doesn’t generate news from places like Iraq, how will Yahoo, which doesn’t operate its own bureaus, maintain a reliable stream of professional quality reporting? In a very real way, the internet risks killing off the goose that keeps laying its golden eggs.
Why must the centuries-old model of printing news on paper, distributed by a cadre of delivery people, and tossing it on people’s lawns continue forevermore? Surely, the NYT, LAT and others are charging YahooNews a fee for using their content? Not to mention making significant advertising revenues off their sites?
Further, isn’t news reporting to a certain extent a commodity? Do we really need dozens of reporters sitting around transcribing Tony Snow’s press conferences? Does the Washington correspondent from Paduka really add any value? And how many of those foreign bureau reporters are doing essentially the same thing, sitting around CENTCOM headquarters waiting for the next presser?
The very best national journalists and foreign correspondents will continue to ply their trade. If the LAT closes their overseas bureaus, their best and brightest will be snapped up by the NYT and others who have the resources to invest in outstanding foreign coverage. That’ll add to their prestige and increase their quality.
Further, while the online world is changing the world of journalism, it’s not destructive without also being creative. The New Media is making it clear that there are tons of experts out there who actually understand the issues they’re writing about much better than journalists with B.A.’s in English Literature who parachute in to cover a story. Indeed, the publisher of the Atlantic Monthly is looking to hire 300 experts, many of them bloggers, for his empire. If this catches on, we may well come out ahead.