Future of News

Current trends in new news models

Posted in Uncategorized by James on September 22, 2009

Digital News

When the future of news is mentioned there are usually two opposite reactions: on one side there is fear of change and imminent destruction, on the other there is hope, optimism and even excitement. Those most afraid are the large metro newspapers, worried that there will not be place for them when the dust settles and a new form of journalism emerges. Among all the hype, debate, and criticism, one thing is certain: a creative and sustainable model that blends print and online media will need to emerge in order to save traditional newspapers. Further, new and innovative models will be developed that fill the void left by news companies that are unable to adjust to the new ways of news distribution.

There are many ideas for future models of news zipping around journalistic websites, blogs, and even legacy news pages. In this report we will focus on a couple that have been highly discussed and are likely to take shape in the near future. Keep in mind that these models are still in the experimental phase and absolutely nothing is set in stone when discussing the future of the news.

One model is centered on the idea of “pay walls.” This term is used to describe news providers limiting the amount of free content on their site, and then charging for the rest. Michael Massing has some interesting thoughts on pay walls, and believes that there is indeed a future for this model of news. In his article A New Horizon for the News, Massing describes the Financial Times website’s strategy of offering a specified number of articles for free, and then charging once users go over this limit. The Wall Street Journal plays a similar game but instead of using an article “meter,” they offer all of their news free online except for their business and financial reports. The Wall Street Journal has been able to gather a subscription base using this method precisely because the subscriber finds this information valuable and worth paying for.

A second model is focused upon websites that fill in the void created when traditional news outlets close down. These news websites come in many different forms, but most usually start out as small projects funded by grants or donations. Some of these types of websites were highlighted in a report by the pew center for excellence in journalism that can be read here. Of the news websites on the report, I was most excited about pro publica. The site is a non-profit organization that is funded entirely by philanthropic organizations. Some notable mentions about the site include its continued ability to skillfully aggregate important political information, and their ability to continue quality investigative journalism. Websites like Pro Publica have been dubbed topical news sources because they detract for the traditional approach of being all things to all people, and instead focus on a specific news topic.

Many news organizations are looking to NPR for guidance in the non-profit model. The success of NPR is due in part to its listeners love of the program, which translates directly into donations. In his A New Horizon for the News article, Massing writes

“Listening to Schiller[NPR’s chief executive], I began to envision the outlines of a new type of news system in the United States, one rooted in the public radio stations that reach into nearly every town and county in the country. If the news-gathering abilities of these stations were truly fortified, they could help fill in the gaps in local news being left by the downsizing of daily papers. They could also provide nodes of collaboration for all those innovative Web sites out there, both for- and not-for-profit.”

This idea is feasible given when one considers the number of local NPR sister stations. Further, if these stations were to focus more on online content, they could weave their audio stories into an even better multimedia journalistic product.

So to end this report I want to stress Jeff Jarvis’ comments in his blog post What Crisis. In the post Jarvis writes

“So if we’re looking for an original sin in this saga, I’ll confess that mine has been viewing news from the perspective of the old controllers rather than from that of the community (the people formerly known as the audience), the inventors, and the entrepreneurs.”

Here Jarvis is speaking about the potential and opportunities that are available during this critical time of change. Those who succeed and determine what the future of news reporting and distribution become are those who are most capable of combining traditional journalistic practices, newly emerging technology, and an understanding of the power of the crowd into an accessible and financially sustainable product.

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