The debate about the future of journalism reached the height of silliness last year when journalist turned banker Steven Rattner suggested that The New York Times be subsidized by the government like the BBC. But the economics of journalism has always driven the format, aside from journalistic labors of love ranging from penny savers in colonial times to hyperlocal blogs today.
As recounted in Ken Doctor’s valuable new book, Newsonomics, “the institution of American journalism owes more to the institution of the department store than the First Amendment” — a 1988 comment attributed to Knight Ridder exec Jim Batten.
But what’s happened? The department stores have consolidated and shifted much of their marketing; big chunks of paid classifieds have been Craigslisted; and the circulation (audience) has increasingly moved down the slippery slope to a potpourri of “continuous partial attention” news channels. Indeed, the details found in newsprint aren’t always especially sought after. As Doctor notes, just 44 percent can be bothered to click past the headlines in news aggregators like Google News to get to the original source.
Dead. Dead. Dead. Nobody in his right mind would plan a future at a newspaper or TV news broadcast anymore, right? But then there is this inconvenient statistic: Applications to journalism schools have more than doubled in the past several years — even with tuition bills exceeding $50,000 at the elite institutions.
For the journalist who will pursue his or her avocation, plentiful options exist, notes Doctor, a former Knight Ridder Digital exec and publisher at newspapers and alternative weeklies who currently does analysis for Outsell and writes the Content Bridges blog. The solutions are structured in the book as “twelve new trends that will shape the news you get.”
The trends are right on and more than familiar to our BIA/Kelsey audience (“Itch the Niche!”). But happily, Doctor avoids the blue sky and covers the bases with the aplomb of an all star. His comprehensive review, interesting detail and demand that the relationships between business and journalism be creatively re-explored make this a valuable book for those who care about the future of journalism, and its critical role in democratic societies.