By the Project for Excellence in Journalism
What does all this mean for online news? As individuals use the Web more and more, they are becoming more skilled at it, and more willing to be critical of the information offered. Right now, anyway, the multiplicity of views seems to be what people treasure most.
As chronicled in Dan Gillmor’s We the Media, the phenomenon is not just blogs but an assortment of citizen/volunteer/participant content, checked and enriched by the fast-feedback loop the Web makes possible.
How much of this is journalism is a subject of lively intellectual debate in early 2005. What is less debatable is that the broadcast and newspaper industries have been on the sidelines for much of the action and, by and large, offer only modest extensions of the news produced for their primary medium. Revenue growth, especially for newspaper sites, has been brighter – 30% to 40% for several years now. But there is a threat here, too, from shopping-exchange sites like Craigslist and E-bay. They offer no news content whatsoever; they are growing by unbundling what is combined in the newspaper, with free ads chipping away at the durably profitable business model.
Looking forward, even Gillmor, enough of an enthusiast for the new forms that he quit his “dream job” as technology writer for the San Jose Mercury News in favor of a dot.com startup, sees a troubling problem. For all their exciting features, he writes in the preface to his book, it is hard to envision the sprawling and loosely connected new media forms coming up with the concentrated resources to do the toughest investigative and public service journalism. Things like Watergate, the pedophile priests scandal, Abu Ghraib or systematic coverage of the entire Iraq war story. So an “unraveling of the business model” for institutional media becomes both an imaginable and alarming scenario.
“Who will serve, for better or worse, as a principal voice of a community or region?” Gillmor asks. Flawed as the profit-hoarding, slow-to-innovate current business model seems to be, he says, “anarchy in news is not my idea of a solution.” 1
1. Dan Gillmor. we the media. (Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media, 2004).