|By the Project for Excellence in Journalism
In the first two years of this report, we sensed the news media in America trapped by the twin phenomena of changing technology and economic success. The former created the need for the news media to change fundamentally. The latter bred conservatism and aversion to risk. The role of the press was changing, yet the companies that controlled the media, insulated by high profits, seemed neither to fully understand nor ready to act boldly.
We sensed that had changed some heading into 2006. Problems had worsened. The direction of audience and advertising was clearer. The industry turned more seriously to new technology.
In 2007, that recognition and change began to take on a more discernible shape. And for many, it was the shape of branding, targeting and diminished ambitions. That may be inevitable. It may even be logical. But it also strikes us that it continues to lack boldness. The new direction has the strengths and weakness of prudence, of consensus.
News is not a corporate product. It was not invented in a laboratory or an R&D department. It evolved out of popular sentiment, out of political movement and out of a human instinct for knowledge and awareness. And its greatest leaps forward came from risk-takers who were often discounted because their vision broke with convention, and because their tastes ran in sometimes contradictory directions, the likes of Ted Turner, or Joseph Pulitzer, or Adolph Ochs.
We have wondered in earlier reports whether the news industry had waited too long, letting too many opportunities slip by, such as offers years ago to buy start-up companies that now are major new-media rivals; or whether consumers will care about the values that the old press embodies, or the brands — such as CBS and the New York Times —that represent those values.
Now, as change accelerates, it is the third question we have posed before that seems most urgent. Does the industry have a vision that is bold enough, and does it have leaders whom journalists and audiences will follow?
The answers, we continue to suspect, will be in the journalism, too, not only in the business strategies that fund it. If the past tells us anything, it’s that the two sides cannot flourish unless they move together.