The business model of American journalism is collapsing. Fast. Should you
care? And if you did, could you do anything about it? Yes. Yes. Oh, my,
yes! That's why I'm here -- to invite you to join me, in this scary but
promising time, to do nothing less than SAVE American journalism.
Grandiose? Yes. So is the title of my Manifesto [pdf]. But suitable to the
scale of the challenge. Or so it seems to me, after 35 years in the business
of American journalism. But wait this is no old-timer's brief for
Journalism As We Have Loved It; I've been at least something of a rebel.
I've issued (not to mention elicited) plenty of criticism.
What a challenge, to talk about Traditional American Journalism to a
community of folks on the Web where journalism's many flaws are all too
well known. So the Boston Globe is losing money. So NBC is cutting staff. So
Knight Ridder is gone. There is a whole new world out there being born, and
citizens' voices to be heard. This is an exciting time, not one for wailing
and gnashing of teeth.
Nonetheless. All of us who care about our communities, our social
interactions, our country's place in the world all of us rely on a sound
and steady supply of information. That supply will be made up of all kinds
of streams, from presidential pronouncements to community carwash press
releases, from advertising to the wide woolly world of those who mull and
meditate and pronounce. But we will always need this thing called
journalism. This craft undertaken at newsrooms across the country from which
reporters go forth to nose around in courthouses and schoolrooms and
boardrooms. This creation of original content, mediated and moderated,
shaped and distributed in the public interest.
Yes, yes, journalism is flawed. Nobody knows that better than those of us
who've long done it (and then critiqued it!). But its high points are no
less indisputable. The decoders of tax bills and of budgets, the witnesses
to war, the diggers-out of state secrets that the powerful yearn to keep.
This is expensive stuff, this kind of work, and it is now genuinely
threatened. The media model we came up with over time in this country
commercial media companies underwritten by advertising is failing.
Eyeballs and advertisers are moving over here to the Web. New models are
emerging, but that takes time. Meanwhile, how do we guarantee the continued
production of original work in the public interest?
As everybody reading this is straining to say, there are lots of answers: We
are going to see different kinds of media ownership. Citizens will play
stronger and stronger roles. Journalists will have to rethink their
relationship with the people they serve. And on and on. And that's my point.
There are lots of answers. At www.annenbergpublicpolicycenter.org you'll find 50 or so. They're
ideas, really, to get discussions started among different communities. There
are roles aplenty for investors and educators, for newsmakers and news
consumers, for the most rebellious of bloggers and the most intractable of
Please meet me there, oh fellow citizen of this unsettling time, at my
immodestly named Manifesto, and check out those Action Steps. Typical of us
legacy-media types, we haven't quite gotten our site interactive yet, but we
will, very soon. We'll be posting progress along these various paths. We'll
need your views on the action steps we've thought of, and your suggestions
for others. I hope you'll join us.