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Saturday, May 20, 2006

Dan Gillmor answers your concerns

Dan Gillmor answers your concerns



Dan Gillmor, author of We the Media, responds to e-mails from readers about the emerging threat to in-depth journalism as the advertising newspapers use to keep themselves solvent moves to the net.

Technology transfer

Reader: Does business pose a serious threat? It requires a change in tactics for a modern world. We used to write on stone! Not many people want to carry a bit of paper nowadays. Laptops do more. Mobile phones develop into mini PC's (I already have one) and, of course mobile TV. Does traditional journalism still have an important role? Yes! It just requires keeping in advance of technology also, to deliver it with global ease and interest. Journalism/News media should already be setting up as ISP's.

Paris Hilton and Bugs Bunny, AP
Some fear news will become all gossip and sensationalism
Dan: Yes, but this still doesn't solve the business model question. I get most of my news online these days. Delivering the news online is a great deal easier than transferring the business model.

Readers write

Reader: What people find so appealing about the internet is that its so interactive. If the BBC allowed the public to write their own news blogs,(then compiled into readable form), people might find the news more interesting. Reading about gang culture from a gang member not from an Oxford student. The BBC could edit and help people express their thoughts into print. A more multicultural, interactive approach might greatly improve journalism as seen today. Joan, Los Angeles

Dan: No one needs the BBC's permission to write a blog. It would be interesting to see how BBC journalists created a digest of best material from blogs, though.

Yellow press

Reader: Journalism died in a lot of our papers a long time ago. It was replaced with a thing called Sensationalism. It is like Journalism except it uses shorter words, lots of adjectives and it replaces the truth with speculation. If less adverts means that we get more Journalism and less Sensationalism then great, if not we might just as well forget that there is a difference between fact and fiction! Barry Barker, Bury St. Edmunds, United Kingdom

Dan: This is all too true in some respects, and sensationalism has become an integral part of papers in the United States, too. But when I visit the UK I see a high level of quality. I avidly read the Guardian and Telegraph, for example, and find myself envious of what you have. My local paper isn't up to their standards. I don't see how fewer advertisements will lead to more journalism, though. It's easier (and less expensive) to gossip than do serious reporting.

Blog bias

Reader: Not dying but exposed; the fundamental issue is credibility. The "traditional" journalism Gillmor pines for has never existed - since when has journalism been objective or unbiased? The difference today is that these biases, though denied by mainstream media, have become more pronounced with catastrophic effect on the credibility of the art. Bloggers, conversely, tend to be more candid in disclosing their biases. Paul W, Washington DC

Dan: I wonder if you're upset with journalism that doesn't support your view of the world than with its so-called bias. I agree that objectivity is almost impossible to achieve, and that transparency is essential in the emerging world of news. I'd like to see more disclosures in all media.

Word perfect

Reader: I have been interviewed for twelve articles (two front page stories) related to my profession and my current job over the last two years. Audiotapes were made of each interview. The published "news articles" were only 50%-75% accurate and four times I've been quoted for statements that I never made. I used to trust journalist to be professional. Now I wonder can I even trust what I read on the sport's page. Steven, Sacramento, CA

Mobile phone, AP
Product placements could crop up more on TV news
Dan: This is an all-too-common complaint, and it's happened to me, too (being misquoted or taken out of context). But I've found the accuracy quotient to be much higher, and I also believe that journalists try hard to get it right even when they misunderstand a nuance. It would be valuable if more journalists had the experience of having been covered by other journalists; we'd all be more careful, I suspect.

Ad evolution

Reader: I foresee not a divorce of TV programs and advertising but a marriage. They will be intertwined either in space (by splitting the screen) or in time (by having performers make frequent brief product references) to prevent skipping of the ads. This will affect of forms of content but most insidiously it will replace the news program with what Americans call info-mercials. This process has already begun with unacknowledged commercial and political video news releases peppering "news" programs. Hugh Cumper

Dan: This is happening already, at least the "product placement" part of it, where products show up in movies and TV shows. And it's definitely insidious. The use by TV "news" shows of video press releases without identifying them as such is a violation of trust with the audience, and I hope in the end it is punished with loss of viewers.

Public good

Reader: Dan wrote: "What if we're in for a decade or two of decline in the watchdog journalism that takes deep pockets and a civic commitment to produce?" We will not see much difference, unless you happen to be talking about Private Eye. Most of us don't see journalists as protecting the public good or having a civic commitment - quite the opposite in fact or we wouldn't see so much celebrity marketing tat being produced. Maurice Milligan, Bangor, NI

Dan: I wouldn't miss the celebrity garbage, either. But I fear the day when we might not have a New York Times to tell us of illegal spying on citizens, or a Sunday Times (London) to tell us of the Downing Street memo, or a Washington Post to tell us that our government is running secret prisons around the world.

When governments refuse to investigate themselves -- and go out of their way to hide their mistakes (and worse) -- we need serious journalism more than ever.

Paper chase

Reader: Organisations that produce newspapers have an enormous head start over any new entrants because they have the skills and networks needed to provide the content. The challenge for existing media organisations and new entrants alike is in developing revenue from the web, either from subscription, sponsorship or advertising. The revenue streams may be smaller, but the distribution costs for electronic news are orders of magnitude smaller than using dead trees. Keith Dowsett, London

Dan: I agree that traditional news organizations have a built-in advantage, but they have moved with remarkable slowness. What I don't know is whether the online revenues will reach the levels that support the journalism soon enough to make up for what will be lost on the print side, even with the potential savings. The early numbers aren't encouraging.

HAVE YOUR SAY
The overheads of print media mean that they are under greater commercial pressure than on-line media. On-line you can take the commercial risk of doing deep journalism.
Corin, London

Delivery boys

Reader: Perhaps journalism is not dying, but the business model that supports it just needs to adapt to new methods of information delivery. For example, what about turning journalistic information into a raw commodity and selling it piecemeal just as iTunes permits music lovers to buy one good song instead of a whole crummy album? It's a rare publication that gets read cover-to-cover so why not adapt journalism to a pay-as-you-go business model that eschews the idea of the "publication"? Andrew Robulack, Whitehorse, YT

Dan: This kind of thing will certainly occur, and already does in a sense with freelance sales to publications. But there's scant evidence that people want to pay a la carte for individual articles or broadcast programs. The billing issues are difficult, for one thing, and most people seem to prefer a bundle, not a piecemeal approach.

Money maker

Reader: I'm a newspaper reporter and in four months I'm going to study medicine. I probably would stay in newspapers were in not for the fact that the pay is awful and getting worse all the time. The media companies exist these days to make money - no other reason believe me. The editors and reporters might have different aspirations but the owners want the cash and they dictate the budget. It's a shame because newspapers can play a positive role in society whatever anyone thinks. David, london

Dan: We will miss people like you.

Cash flow

Reader: Advertising money for journalism will flow towards the most original and attractive manifestation of talent, as in other creative businesses like film, music, etc. If the quality of the writing and analysis is as high as this piece by Dan Gillmor, the "citizen journalists" will find it hard to attract advertising money. David McDowell, Lockerbie

Dan: Perhaps, but if the advertising money flows most of all toward sites that do nothing but advertising, where does that leave journalism. (Incidentally, one of the first things a beginning journalist is taught is to ensure that names are spelled correctly.)

Conduct unbecoming

Reader: With the demise of the "news room", I think journalists need a trade organization that provides a "stamp of authenticity" and upholds standards of conduct for journalists, and which provides a web portal for them. Then each (now independent) journalist gets paid from the web ads on their news articles. Each one is its own newspaper. The trade group can provide dynamic grouping capabilities for larger projects. One more step in the further decentralization of "news". Craig, Silly-con Valley

Clocks in BBC newsroom, BBC
Newsrooms could become a thing of the past
Dan: I'd call this re-aggregation after disaggregation, just with a new middleman. I agree, though, that some journalists are becoming brands of their own, independently of their employers' brands.

Think piece Reader: The article on the decline of revenues for newspapers was very thoughtful and well written. Now we need the next step: articles on the new business model for journalism! Kim Harnack, McLean, Virginia, USA

Dan: Lots of smart folks are working on it. I hope they're smarter than I am, because I haven't seen an obvious solution yet.

Spin city

Reader: Dan Gilmour makes an incorrect assumption: That newspapers altruistically produce "pure" journalism that creates "well informed citizens". History shows that most print media is spin and gossip. Even well intentioned "news analysis" is often badly researched opinion. The overheads of print media mean that they are under greater commercial pressure (and hence conflict of interest) than on-line media. On-line you can take the commercial risk of doing deep journalism. Corin, London

Dan: I don't minimize the flaws of traditional media. But I don't want to exaggerate them, either.

Barons caught

Reader: The demise of journalism will, if it happens, also bring about the demise of the media baron. That will provide considerable compensation for the loss. Simon Richardson, London, UK

Dan: I wonder if we'll someday be nostalgic for the baronies...

Balancing act

Reader: My greatest fear is that blogging, which is currently providing a badly needed injection of fresh air into public debate, will only too soon go the way of print journalism and the US mass media: vetted by the wealthy and powerful for "inappropriate" content. So it's not "balanced". So what? David Ballantyne, Raleigh, NC, USA

Dan: The barrier to entry is zero, or close to it. So I'm not worried that corporate interests will take over the new media.

Edge fund

Reader: I and many people I know would be more than happy to pay a yearly sum to read our favourite journalists online. One of my favourite journalists, I have often wished he had somewhere I could donate online to assist him in his endeavours. Pamela Law, New Zealand

Dan: You may get your wish sooner than later. Patronage and subscriptions may become a preferred revenue model.


Dan Gillmor is author of We the Media, a book about technology and the development of grassroots journalism. He is also director of the Centre for Citizen Media.

Dan is writing a series of columns for the BBC News website.

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