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New media models disrupt traditional journalism

February 3, 2014 at 6:30 PM EST
A slew of made-for-Web news sites are increasingly undermining the platform of print media. In this shifting landscape, how will journalism and storytelling survive, and what are readers to gain? Judy Woodruff talks to Re/code’s Walt Mossberg, VOX Media’s Jim Bankoff, and Tom Rosenstiel of the American Press Institute.
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TRANSCRIPT

GWEN IFILL: Now: how journalism on the Web, and created specifically for the Web, is disrupting traditional models and creating new ones.

Judy Woodruff has our conversation, which she recorded recently.

JUDY WOODRUFF: These days, online ventures are attracting big names from what was the traditional world of news media, and the landscape is shifting ever more quickly.

The most recent move, Ezra Klein, formerly of The Washington Post, and his popular Wonkblog site, is developing a new website for deep and explanatory-style journalism. That follows Nate Silver taking his popular 538 blog to ESPN from The New York Times, and the founders of the Wall Street journal’s All Things Digital brand creating their own new site, Re/code, backed by NBC Universal and others. And this is just to name a handful.

We look at what this means for journalism and what’s behind it with Jim Bankoff. He is the chairman and CEO of Vox Media, which will publish the new Ezra Klein Project X, Walter Mossberg, who co-launched the new venture Re/code, and Tom Rosenstiel, the executive director of the American Press Institute.

And we welcome you all to the “NewsHour.”

Walt Mossberg, I’m going to start with you.

Why would someone who is working in traditional media want to — and I’m sure there are a lot of reasons, but what is the main reason we should know that you would want to take that and go to an online-only home?

WALTER MOSSBERG, Re/code: Well, Judy, just speaking for myself and my co-founder, Kara Swisher, first of all, we wrote about — we write about technology, and because we write about technology, we’re already largely read online.

And, secondly, it wasn’t sort of fleeing anything. It was trying to have the opportunity to build and expand and grow and develop the brand and the kind of content that we have been doing already. So it isn’t really print vs. online so much. It’s more independence and kind of the freedom to move nimbly and grow.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Jim Bankoff, is that how you see it, that it’s not really about online vs. other kinds of media?

JIM BANKOFF, Vox Media: Well, I don’t know if I would say it exactly like that.

I agree with Walt and Kara. They’re building something great. And I would pick up on that and say there are people like Ezra or Josh Topolsky, who is our editor at our site called The Verge, a lot of people like him who want to do something bold and ambitious and create a new media brand that was expressly made for the Web.

And I think some folks lose sight that this is a different medium. It’s not print, it’s not television, of course. It has its own craft, its own opportunity. And you see a lot of talented people who get that and want to pursue it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, what do you mean that it’s not — it’s just different? By virtue of the technology?

JIM BANKOFF: Well, there are certain things that remain constant, of course, good storytelling, a strong voice, facts. It will never change, of course. But the medium is different.

It’s there are new tools at your disposal. They call it multimedia for a reason. It weaves in video. It weaves in new things too, though, like location, like social. It does it across new devices and the people who consume the new media do so in different ways. And that’s obvious.

And so the way that it’s produced, the way that it’s distributed, the way that it is consumed, while keeping some virtues of good storytelling and journalism, embraces new opportunity.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Tom Rosenstiel, as somebody who has looked at media old and new for a long time, how do you see the difference in these two ways of connecting with an audience?

TOM ROSENSTIEL, American Press Institute: Well, the old way that lot of people looked at the emerging technology was to say we don’t care where we deliver it; we’re platform-agnostic.

And I think what Jim’s talking about is being platform-orthodox, trying to understand the potential and the new ways that are endemic to the new technology and really exploit them, because that’s what consumers are doing. They’re discovering the ways of doing this.

Now, one thing about this that is not entirely new is legacy media always had stars. There were sports columnists. There were tentpole personalities at publications. And I remember David Halberstam, the great book writer who started at The New York Times and won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of Vietnam. He said at a certain point, you outgrow those publications and you want to do different things than you can do in newspapers.

What’s different now is many of these folks are doing the same thing as they were doing at their legacy institution, but they want to have freedom to do it slightly differently. But it’s not going from newspapers to book writing. It’s the same product.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Walt Mossberg, you talked about reaching a different audience. I mean, who — what are you talking about — what are you speaking about? Because you were at The Wall Street Journal. That is a publication that reaches a lot of people.

WALTER MOSSBERG: Right.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Who do you reach now? Who do you want to reach?

WALTER MOSSBERG: Well, we want to reach a wide audience, both people — because our subjects are tech and media primarily, we obviously want to reach kind of the people in those industries and who are interested in those industries.

But we want to watch — we want to reach everybody that uses technology, everybody that is interested in the topic, the junction of tech and media. And one of our first hires when we became independent, which was just 30 days ago, was a reporter to do science and biotech and kind of, you know, kind of, much more cutting-edge things than just the next smartphone or the next laptop or something.

So it is a broader audience, and it just depends on your strategy. I would also agree with Jim that there’s a lot more you can do online than in print. But while I was at The Journal, we were already running a fairly autonomous online site.

We just needed to be able to be nimbler and to move faster and to take advantage more quickly of everything the Web offered.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Jim Bankoff, how profitable can these ventures be? Can they — can they be a business model that others will want to replicate?

JIM BANKOFF: I certainly think so. You have to have faith that there’s a big opportunity here.

You have to have faith that journalism and storytelling will continue to matter as it transitions into a new medium. Looking at it historically, we have seen a lot of disruption, of course, migration from magazines to cable networks and broadcast. Every generation, it seems, has had its own media properties that have been built into large, sustainable and highly profitable businesses. I see no reason why that can’t be the case here.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you see that, Tom Rosenstiel? Again, you have looked a lot of different efforts to do something like this.

TOM ROSENSTIEL: I think we don’t know what the potential is for all of these, what you might call the individual as brand, the individual journalist as brand.

I think it depends on a couple of things. What’s the nature of the topic, how broad is it, or is there a sustainable business model for it. All Things D. that Walt and Kara built derives a lot of revenue from events. And there is a proven business model that they have sustained over 12 years.

With Ezra, it’s about economic policy. My guess is the model is going to be different. And there’s probably a limit on how many of these can be out there. There’s some element of convenience for consumers to go to one place and still see a lot of things collected.

I remember sort of in the early days of the Internet, when Matt Drudge came to the Press Club in Washington and said — this was the time when people were talking about citizen journalists, and maybe journalists would become obsolete and citizens would do the reporting. And he said, there is no need for a million of me. There is only room for a few.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, in fact, Walt Mossberg, could you have done this if you hadn’t already established a big identity with what you were doing with All Things Digital?

WALTER MOSSBERG: I’m not sure we could have raised the money without the identity.

But I do want to say, I have had been lucky enough to have a following and to be known. Kara Swisher, my partner, had a following and was known. We had 15 other journalists who were working for us who also all had followings in their beats. And they all came with us. So we were able to hit the ground running.

And it is a great question, Judy, of whether somebody completely unknown, even somebody twice as talented as those of us who are better known, if you are not known at all, could you have raised money and go do this? That’s a great question. I don’t know the answer to that.

JIM BANKOFF: Well, the great thing about the medium is that there is equal access to the platform.

Of course, you know, it seems obvious now, but gone are the days where you need a broadcast tower or a printing press to express your views or to conduct and print and publish yourself. So that’s wonderful. Now, the talent will rise. And I do agree, not everyone is going to be able to scale it into a large enterprise, but what’s clear is all of this opportunity, all of this choice is great for consumers of the news.

They have to sift through it and we hopefully will provide great context for them to help them make sense of everything that is coming at them. But there has really never been a better time, I believe, to be a consumer of news and information, with all the choices that are out there.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Thank you all, Jim Bankoff, Walt Mossberg, Tom Rosenstiel.