Sunday, February 17, 2008

Gloom and Doom

I hear this quite a bit: Journalists (particularly print journalists) are tired of hearing all the "doom and gloom" about what lies ahead for the industry.

The statement is usually followed by a call for "solutions" and bolstered by high-ranking reassurances that "newspapers aren't going away."

Which probably explains why I'd rather talk about doom and gloom than sweetness and light.

Some points worth remembering:

New communications technologies don't typically exterminate their predecessors (this isn't exactly true: try sending a telegram). Newspapers survived radio, radio survived TV, TV has survived Teh Interwebs, and so on.

Even dinosaurs didn't exactly go extinct. They just stopped being big old dominant lizards and survived as birds -- light, maneuverable, adaptable birds.

Change only looks like gloom and doom when you're living through it.

Hence: The issue isn't newspapers. It's journalism.

If we insist on determining the success or failure of ideas based on the relative successes and failures of newspapers, then we're using the wrong metric. If we insist on valuing only those ideas that return 20 percent profits to investors, then short-sighted greed will blind us to the obvious.

We've got some heavy lifting to do. We need new business models (note that I made this plural) that can fund quality journalism. We need to switch from "document" thinking to "database" thinking. We must re-imagine a relationship with "the people formerly known as the audience" that fundamentally accounts for the fact that the transmission of information is no longer a one-way street.

Will there be newspapers in the future? Sure. Not that most of us will care.

Radio was still around in the 1950s, but Edward R. Murrow -- whose "This is London" Blitz radio reports were the stuff of radio-journalism legend -- had moved on to TV.

So let's stop worrying about preserving the status of the current newsroom management class and the wealth of our media ownership elites.

Let's start scheming up new ways to make great journalism.

Nothing gloomy there.