sfgate.gifMark Glaser over at PBS Mediashift has pointed out a couple of interesting articles from the San Francisco Chronicle.  Published just a week apart, these articles take opposing sides in the controversy over the value of new media and its affect on newspapers and traditional outlets.  Neil Henry 's article, "The Decline of News ", pines whines over the damage the Internet has caused the "old" media, while Dan Gillmor, in "Journalism isn't dying, it's Reviving ", extols the role the new media is playing in creating a diverse news atmosphere. Both articles are worth reading, as both authors make some good points.  I'd like to take some time here to respond to this articles, taking a closer look at the opinions of both authors.

For example, one of Mr. Henry's stronger moments in his article: 

"As a teacher of journalism, I see the situation differently. I see a world where the craft of reporting the news fairly and independently is very much endangered; and with it a society increasingly fractured, less informed by fact and more susceptible to political and marketing propaganda, cant and bias.

I see a world in which the pursuit of truth in service of the public interest is declining as a cultural value in our society amid this technological tumult; a world where professional journalism, practiced according to widely accepted ethical values, is a rapidly diminishing feature in our expanding news and information systems, as we escape to the Web to experience the latest 'new' thing."

In this respect, Mr. Henry is probably right to some degree.  Increasingly relying on blogs and other types of "new" media probably does leave consumers open to more biased and skewed points of view.  It depresses me, however, to think that Mr. Henry does not believe that individuals can think for themselves and can decipher quality from fluff and propaganda.

In the same vein, Mr. Gillmor distinguishes between "citizen media" and "journalists", something that few analyzes have failed to acknowledge: 

"Deriding 'basement bloggers' and citizen media creators of all kinds, with no recognition of the enormous variety in the genre, betrays insufficient knowledge, if not willful blindness. No, most blogging and other citizen media aren't journalism. So what? Neither is most writing on paper, most photography, most video or most anything else.

But I can name more than a few bloggers whose work I rely on more than the output from traditional journalists covering the same subjects. Some community Web sites are beating local newspapers and TV to big stories. And citizen journalists of all stripes are looking deeply into niche topics that big media ignore or cover shallowly."

Figuring out how to appropriately cover everything is proving to be a big problem for newspapers today.  Divvying up resources between niche/local issues and national/global issues is proving to be a difficult task.  Newspapers that don't have the resources to cover community issues are losing out to bloggers and other independent content providers who focus on these stories daily.  Consumers can get national news anywhere, but their sources for localized and specialized information are limited.

Mr. Gillmor points out that the principles of journalism shouldn't just be reserved for professional students.  Rather:

"Encouraging honorable journalism also requires a long overdue update of media literacy. Part of that, I argue, is to better understand the principles of journalism — such as accuracy, thoroughness, fairness, independence and transparency — and teach them not just to journalism students but to everyone. When consumers become creators, and creators become collaborators, these principles extend broadly. "

Reading these two articles made me think:  does this really need to be an either/or kind of situation?  Do consumers have to choose newspapers or new media?  Can't we have both?  I firmly believe that newspapers and blogs both play important roles in the way our society accesses news and information.  Newspapers are entrenched in our culture, and while they might be struggling right now, I doubt these publications or their journalists will ever be actually replaced by new media. In this way, I think that Mr. Henry is slightly misinformed when he says, "The fact is there will be nothing on YouTube, or in the blogosphere, or anywhere else on the Web to effectively replace the valuable work of those professionals".  I don't think bloggers ever will totally replace journalists.  Nor do I think they are trying to replace journalists right now.  Bloggers have become a supplement to newspaper journalists, providing a new service much different than the product that traditional reporters have provided in the past.

Choosing strictly blogs or newspapers would be a dangerous and undesirable outcome.  Both mediums have their place in society, and I don't see either disappearing anytime soon.  In this respect, I agree with Mr. Gillmor:

"Try to ignore the fringes of this conversation: the old-guard doomsayers and/or elitists who see nothing but woe for journalism, and the tech-triumphalists and/or media haters who can't wait to see today's system blown to utter shreds. These are vapid, false choices. Let's work to keep the best of traditional media."

Despite his moments of brilliance, Neil Henry appears to be a doomsayer, taking what I believe is an overly-dramatic stance on this issue.  Take, for example, his treatment of online advertising:

"The rise of the Internet has produced sharp declines in traditional advertising revenues in the printed press. Free online advertising competitors such as Craigslist.com have sharply undermined classified advertising as a traditional source of revenue. While many newspapers have attempted mightily to forge a presence on the Web — including The Chronicle, whose terrific sfgate.com is among the top 10 most trafficked news sites in America — revenue from online advertising is paltry compared to that from traditional print sources. As a result, newspapers such as The Chronicle must make staff cuts to survive — and increasingly it is highly skilled professional journalists committed to seeking the truth and reporting it, independently and without fear
or favor, who must go.

Portraying Craigslist as an evildoer is just flat out ridiculous.  Blaming Craigslist for the failure of newspapers' online ads would be like blaming the DVD industry for the decline of VHS tapes.  Craigslist was an innovation, and the newspaper industry hasn't been able to keep up.  Therefore, the role of newspapers in classified advertising is declining.  Should we really blame the new and improved model for this?  Or should we blame the newspapers themselves, who haven't kept up with current strategies?  This case is a perfect example of why members of the "old media" should try to learn from the "new media" rather than blame it for their troubles.  It seems to me it would be more advantageous to everyone involved if newspapers and their websites would take a few cues from new media and its consumers, learning from their progress instead of fighting it and fearing it.   On this topic, I would like to direct everyone to a post by Invisible Thinking: "10 Obvious Things about the Future of Newspapers you need to get through Your Head".  

Lots of people these days argue that newspapers should be "more like blogs".  While there is some truth to this statement, there are some caveats.  Newspapers aren't blogs, never will be blogs, and probably shouldn't become blogs. Mr. Henry is right that the over-use of blogs can sacrifice journalistic quality.  Technorati's slogan, "some of them have to be good" [referring to the millions of blogs in the blogosphere] can easily be turned around to state the opposite, perhaps something like, "With millions of blogs, some of them have to be god-awful and just plain ridiculous".  Not everything should be a blog.  Newspapers provide many valuable services, including journalistic value; a model that should not be completely discarded.  That being said, newspapers need to adjust and make a transition.  As we point out in our newspaper study from last year and our "9 Ways " post, there are some simple ways newspapers can learn from new media and improve their presence online without sacrificing their culture or journalistic integrity.  

I think that the "old media" needs to relax a little, stop panicking, and learn from industry leaders.  Instead of blaming competitors, newspapers need to learn lessons and keep up with technology.  No one should be asking to get rid of newspapers, their websites, or professional journalists.  But everyone should be asking our favorite publications to upgrade and provide consumers with the best services possible. 

As Mr. Gillmor concludes his article, "The journalistic ecosystem could end up healthier in the end, if we get this right".  I agree.