Monday, 20 June 2011

The Gordian Knot of newspapers, journalism and making money

I have a lot of questions; I don't have many answers.
Four years ago, I thought the questions I should ask were: Why aren't we tweeting? Do we have a Facebook page? Shall we start a Flickr group? How do we go about running a 3-day liveblog? etc etc
About two years ago I started asking new questions. These were: Are we engaging enough? Why do we have so much online shovelware? Why are we holding that story for print? and - increasingly - Why aren't newspapers doing more to help themselves? 
Twelve months down the line and there was another shift in questions. They became: Why are we still having this discussion? Does anyone really believe people will part with hard cash for what we currently offer online? Does anyone have any answers? 

Years of questions that went from being all about the shiny, dynamic world of digital journalism and engagement, to articulating concerns about the inability of the legacy end of the business to catch up, to frustration.
And you know what? There are a lot of people asking 'does anyone have any answers?' - you can almost hear the sound of cyber coughing, and the shuffling of digital feet, as we wait for someone to fill in the silence.

Last week, Alan Rusbridger had a go at filling the silence, and suddenly we all wanted to talk about it too. Kevin Anderson wrote this:
The Guardian needs an intervention. Digital first will not be enough to save it. It needs to remember that although they are supported by a trust, that is not a licence to completely ignore business realities. 
and sparked a pretty wide-ranging and long-lasting debate; even yesterday I saw on Twitter he was being challenged for this stance by Journalism Luminaries Jeff Jarvis and Jay Rose. However, as someone on the inside of the mainstream media (non-Trust), looking out, his thoughts on the need to be more commercially aware resonated with me.
I have sat through a lot of conferences where the future of journalism has been talked into submission but the survival of the mainstream media barely registered, which is fine if you don't work in mainstream media but I do, and it's a subject close to my heart.

When I read the Guardian announcement, my first thought was it seemed a slightly more elegant approach to the Gordian Knot that is the Future of Journalism/Newspapers than Alexander might have taken, but it was still from the same school of "FUCK THIS for a game of soldiers". Maybe Rusbridger's also had enough of asking Why are we still having this discussion? 

At the first News:rewired conference Marc Reeves spoke about the need for journalists to be more commercially savvy and aware of opportunities for their advertising departments. His message was misunderstood by some as saying journalists should sell advertising and he drew some criticism. Those people missed the point of his message.

I read this on Afrodissident today
I read with dismay a few days ago that Business Day was developing an app for iPad. I’m no Luddite, but I think it’s a crying shame knowing that money’s being wasted on a gimmick when it should be rather spent on improving the paper’s core product.
Personally, I doubt making an app will detract from the core product - resourcing an app is the tiniest drop in the ocean compared to keeping the legacy product afloat but it's an eloquent blog post that poses some interesting questions.
Several years ago, when I first got to experiment with all sorts of digital tools for engagement, community building, conversation and interaction, for the first time I understood there was an audience waiting to talk to us about what we do, and had their own views about what we should and shouldn't do. It was an exceptionally liberating and illuminating time. The Shiny doesn't distract me from my job, it helps me do it better.
It isn't the whole solution; perhaps it's more important to work out much of the answer it could be. I don't think The Guardian is going to act as a canary for the rest of the media in this - it is, after all, a unique beast - but the News International model hasn't worked at regional level so far.
I guess it's going to throw out a whole new set of questions.

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