TOPICS > Nation

New Media Develops Rapidly

January 1, 2007 at 6:45 PM EDT
LISTEN SEE PODCASTS

TRANSCRIPT

JEFFREY BROWN: Yes, the big stars of what we can call old media were in the spotlight in 2006, notably when Charles Gibson and Katie Couric traded mornings for evenings.

But another old media mainstay, Time magazine, passed over the anchors and other newsmakers, and instead selected as its person of the year, “You.” That’s you, the viewer, reader, listener, and more and more creator of news content.

The media shift is spreading across the Internet on decidedly new media Web sites, like YouTube, which was purchased in October by the dominant search engine Google for $1.6 billion.

All those eyes on the Internet have come at the expense of traditional news sources and forced numerous changes. NBC announced a plan to save $750 million with the elimination of 700 jobs, the merger of its news operations, and an increased focus on digital content.

The nation’s second-largest newspaper chain, Knight-Ridder, ceased to exist, after selling its 32 papers to a smaller competitor, the McClatchy Company, in a $4.5 billion deal.

And shrinking circulation led to staff cuts at many prominent papers. At the Los Angeles Times, the publisher and editor were forced out when they refused to impose hundreds of corporate-mandated layoffs.

The L.A. Times and its parent, the Tribune Company, are also thought to be on the auction block.

BRIAN TIERNEY, CEO, Philadelphia Media Holdings: I really do believe, from the bottom of my heart, that the next great era of Philadelphia journalism begins today, right here in this room.

JEFFREY BROWN: In Philadelphia, businessman Brian Tierney lead a group of investors in buying the town’s two papers from McClatchy, in what may be a growing trend toward a return to local ownership. Rumors of a potential takeover by local investors also hit the Boston Globe.

For old and new institutions alike, the action is increasingly moving online. USA Today, with the nation’s largest circulation, combined its print and online newsrooms. And it, like other organizations, is incorporating more elements of reader-generated so-called citizen journalism.

A recent event in Los Angeles showed the growing power of nonprofessional journalists in uncovering news. Video of the UCLA student being Tasered or stun-gunned by campus police was taken with a camera phone by a bystander. It spread quickly across YouTube and other online sites.

SEN. GEORGE ALLEN (R), Virginia: This fellow here over here with the yellow shirt, Macaca, or whatever his name is…

JEFFREY BROWN: Some of the more memorable video moments of the recent political campaign also played out in cyberspace, chief among them, Virginia Senator George Allen’s “Macaca” gaffe.

Traditional media continued to expand their own online video presence. CBS News, for example, began simulcasting the evening news online, and ABC began posting original 15-minute news broadcasts to its web site in mid-afternoon.

According to a report released by the Census Bureau, for the first time Americans spend more time surfing the Internet than reading newspapers. And a Pew Research Center study found that nearly one in three Americans regularly gets news online, compared to just one in 50, ten years ago.

And we look at some of these developments now with Mark Jurkowitz, associate director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism and a former media critic for the Boston Globe and the Boston Phoenix.

Mary Hodder, founder and CEO of Dabble.com, a video search and social community Web site, and previously a researcher at the University of California Berkeley School of Information Looking at Digital Media.

Adam Clayton Powell III, director of the Integrated Media System Center at the University of Southern California, and a former news executive at NPR and CBS.

And Nicholas Lemann, dean of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and a staff writer on the media for the New Yorker magazine.

Welcome to all of you.

Future of news media

Nick Lemann, starting with you, there you are at a leading journalism school, no doubt thinking and talking about the future of the news media. To what extent does that conversation focus on the Internet and a shift in the business?

NICHOLAS LEMANN, Columbia University: To a huge extent. I mean, it's this year -- particularly it's been just about all we talk about. Just this morning, we sent out invitations to our annual faculty retreat after the holiday break, and that will be 100 percent devoted to the question of how we do more Internet in our curriculum. So it's very much top of mind for us.

JEFFREY BROWN: Adam Powell, is it happening? To what extent do you see it happening, the shift?

ADAM CLAYTON POWELL III, University of Southern California: The shift is huge, and it's going in a direction which I don't think we can see yet. By the end of next year, we're going to be seeing some innovations which are going to be striking, almost science fiction.

JEFFREY BROWN: Science fiction?

ADAM CLAYTON POWELL III: Yes, 3-D visualizations, the ability to do micro-local news down to your block in your neighborhood. But old media aren't going away.

We still have radio; we still have AM radio; we still have short-wave radio; we still have newspapers; we still have magazines. Life, Look and Collier's went away, but they were replaced by even more magazines, so it simply becomes more crowded, more fragmented, but still with innovation.

JEFFREY BROWN: Mark Jurkowitz, what do you see? Is it possible to think of a balance of power shift?

MARK JURKOWITZ, Project for Excellence in Journalism: Well, the power is shifting, but it hasn't shifted yet completely to new media. I mean, in a year when YouTube sells for $1.6 billion, we know where a lot of the energy in the media are going.

But as Adam points out, the old media are not going anywhere. The fight for the future of some of America's biggest newspapers, between public companies and potentially private owners, still shows they are valuable properties.

The fact that the major networks and CBS gambled on a new evening news anchor for a format that is believed to be sort of heading toward extinction means we are in an evolutionary phase, not a revolutionary phase, right now.

JEFFREY BROWN: Mary Hodder, what do you think, evolutionary or revolutionary? How do you describe it?

MARY HODDER, Dabble.com: Well, I guess coming from the new media side, you know, what we're seeing is enormous. I know that old media, or what I would call legacy media, is not going away. Bloggers always rely on legacy media sources, and I think this is true as well for video.

You know, much of what's uploaded to hosting sites like YouTube is traditional media. But the really, really big shift, the hugeness that I see, is the shift in control, its users programming for others what's interesting.

And, you know, you're taking it away from the Brandon Tarkentoffs (ph). You know, the legacy media companies in the past would tell us what was going to be on the, I don't know, Sunday night line-up, but these days it's users saying, you know, these five minutes out of Comedy Central's, you know, show is the best thing, and everybody watches that.

Sources of news

JEFFREY BROWN: Mary, what are the main changes that you see in how people, especially young people, want to get their news, or where they look to get their news?

MARY HODDER: Well, I think part of it is, is that they're going to shows, like the Comedy Central line-up. You know, it's "The Daily Show" and all of that, and we've all heard this before, so that's nothing new.

But what people are doing, especially younger folks, is they're grabbing bits of that news from television, and they're throwing it up online, and they're sharing it with each other. So that's a huge shift. They're essentially doing the programming that traditional media used to do.

The other thing is, is that they're making their own bits of news. I mean, you look at what happened at UCLA recently, the Tasering incident, which everybody saw. Well, what they were watching was other students' cell phones having shot what, you know, the incident was and throwing that up online. That's enormous.

So there's content coming from both places, but I think the real shift is control. Who gets to decide what we watch has gone away. I'm deciding. My friends are deciding. Other folks on the Internet are deciding. And that sort of yanks the rug out from underneath legacy media in a way that we've never seen before.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, so, Nick Lemann, how do you see legacy media, old media, whatever you want to call it, responding to these changes?

NICHOLAS LEMANN: Well, everybody is trying to figure it out. It doesn't have to be an either/or, and this is one of the miraculous things about the Web.

Most traditional media are experimenting on the Web with some format where part of the site, part of the home page is devoted to traditionally produced content, and another part of the home page takes you into a world of reader-generated content, so you really don't have to say, "We're going all one way or all the other way." It's a wonderful medium to do both at once.

JEFFREY BROWN: Mark, how do you see this question of shifting and control and how old media is reacting?

MARK JURKOWITZ: Well, there's no doubt about it: User-generated content, the idea that everyone in this era can become a journalist, is a very important fact and has knocked away some of the gatekeeper function.

But we have to remember that there has to be some kind of a business model to under-gird journalism. And that's the real issue now.

As we transform from the traditional mainstream media business model for the online business model, which doesn't yet support professional journalism in a traditional way or support opening bureaus across the world...

JEFFREY BROWN: Business model just means, how do you make money at this, right?

MARK JURKOWITZ: How do you make enough money...

JEFFREY BROWN: Let's cut to the quick here.

MARK JURKOWITZ: How do you make enough money? And where is the balance of power? Online ad revenue growing much faster than legacy media ad revenue, but still only a portion of it.

A new business model?

JEFFREY BROWN: How do you see the -- how are people looking to create a business model or make money out of this?

ADAM CLAYTON POWELL III: Well, the central question has been for years: Who is going to pay for basic news gathering? Who is going to pay for all of those newsroom functions that we've associated with the traditional newspaper or a large broadcast news operation?

Right now, the online revenues don't support that, which is why newspapers in particular are beginning to feel it in a very acute way.

But Mary Hodder's example was an interesting one, the UCLA Taser incident. That shows not just citizen journalism or public journalism or user content, but also it gets to something that Dan Gillmore, formerly of the San Jose Mercury News, liked to refer to when he said, "My readers know more than I do."

There is an example of students with cell phones actually uncovering news. And what does the Los Angeles Times do, if you're the Los Angeles Times? For that matter, what do local stations in Los Angeles do? Do you embrace it? Do you try to keep it at arm's length?

That's really the microcosm of what's going on very broadly in the industry and in the business.

JEFFREY BROWN: Mary Hodder do you see -- go ahead.

MARY HODDER: Yes, I was going to hop in there. You know, the thing is, is that I think it would be extremely bad for the democracy if legacy media went away. We couldn't have that, and we need it.

Whether it's for reporting -- and it's very expensive, of course, to do investigative and, you know, worldwide journalism -- or whether it's, you know, creating the "Desperate Housewives" TV show, I mean, these things are really expensive.

I think what you're really getting at around business media, business models, is that in the media we have developed models that support these very expensive creation tools, as it were. And what we're doing now, in terms of transforming to the Web, is going from an eyeball model to something where attention is the currency of the Web.

And so, when you start to rethink what advertising means in terms attention, you can parse who someone is or what they're about without invading their privacy in interesting ways, and actually do something very different.

So the old model was, "Let's throw ads up either in the investigative journalism report, the documentary, or 'Desperate Housewives,'" right? And we just spray the entire audience with an ad. And whether or not it's relevant to them, they get it.

What's really interesting about the Internet is that you have the opportunity to have sort of an opt-in model, where people who are really interested in something can opt in. And there's a sponsorship kind of model that can be attached to that.

And, you know, it's all a big question right now, I think, about whether or not advertisers and brand managers will be willing to shift from that broadcast spray to something where, you know, they can connect up with the thousand most important users for their brand, and potentially enlist those folks as partners, folks who can give them good feedback, whatever, and in effect sponsor the creation of the content that is so expensive to make when it's professionally produced.

Democratization of reporting

JEFFREY BROWN: Nick Lemann, I wanted to go back to this issue of democratization and the citizen journalism. What promise and problems do you think it raises, as someone who not only writes about the media but is training young journalists?

NICHOLAS LEMANN: Well, there's nothing wrong with citizen journalism at all, and there's a lot of it. And it's a very healthy development.

The UCLA incident is a good example. The traditional media can't have a reporter and a photographer at every conceivable place something interesting might happen in the whole Los Angeles basin, so of course they're going to miss stuff. And now that everybody has a cell phone camera, citizens will catch things.

However, what I haven't seen citizen journalism do yet is really provide an ongoing, regular report that monitors the activities of government business and so on. It's a kind of wonderful add-on and corrective to flaws in the conversation, but it doesn't conduct the conversation, and that's the value of traditional media.

One other thing is: People just don't have time to scan an infinitude of news, so eventually people will come up and essentially establish themselves as the folks you can go to because they understand how you think and give you the kind of news they know you'll be interested in.

So then you're sort of back in the soup of a few gatekeepers that tend to attract more people.

JEFFREY BROWN: That's a part of a real big issue here, Mark, right, this whole gatekeeper thing, who's going to play that role.

MARK JURKOWITZ: Well, editors are going to play that role. I mean, journalism skills are not going to go away. Reporting skills, writing skills, editing skills in any media environment are going to continue to exist.

And what you're actually finding in the online world is you're finding some professionalization and some more traditional aspects. Arianna Huffington's very popular blog recently announced they were going to hire traditional news reporters.

There is an international blog called Global Voices that has editors stationed around the world sort of mediating content. So at the same time that you in theory have all these citizen journalists who can report for you, you're also starting to get the imposition of some of the traditional forms of newsroom guidance on some of these media outlets.

There's no doubt about it: The idea of journalism isn't going to go away; the source of it will change in some ways.

JEFFREY BROWN: But, Adam Powell, you started this talking about science fiction, about the future. Do the standards, these traditional reporting standards, remain, even in your science fiction world?

ADAM CLAYTON POWELL III: Well, the question is: How are journalists and editors going to respond? We've seen the rise of Google Earth and similar visualization tools.

In 2007, we're going to see the rise of microlocal applications of that, where you can go in and construct a 3-D model of your neighborhood or, if you're walking around with a cell phone, the cell phone will tell the system where you are, far more accurately even than now, and you will be able to get advertising to your cell phone.

If you're going into a book store, you might get an ad on your cell phone saying, "Well, gee, people who head into book stores like this also liked," the sort of thing we get when we go to Amazon or one of the other online sites. And advertisers are willing to pay a very high cost per thousand for that kind of highly targeted information.

How this intersects with journalism, what the new grammar, the new conventions of telling a story when we have access to 3-D video, what those are, we don't know yet. We're barely learning now how to edit 3-D video.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, Nick Lemann, I started by asking you if the conversation is all about the Internet. What do you tell in the end? What do you tell the prospective journalists now about how to approach it or even what medium to go into?

NICHOLAS LEMANN: I get up on the first day of school, and I say, "Welcome to Columbia Journalism School. I know that if you're devoted to it, you'll be a reporter, a journalist. But the way in which you'll be a journalist, I don't know."

And I say to the students, "Be ready to learn the core functions of accurately reporting and writing the news, and be ready to be very flexible and creative about the means in which you do this, because it will change in ways that'll be a lot of fun for young people to explore."