According to New York Magazine, when addressing his Reporting and Writing I class, Columbia journalism professor Ari Goldman is reported to have said, "Fuck new media!" and to have described online media training as "playing with toys." His print-centric approach to journalism joins a chorus of practicing news gatherers contemplating the end of the newspaper business as we know it.
It might appear a bit self-serving or conflicted when bastions of the mainstream media publish article after article bemoaning the death of newspapers, or claiming that only their business model for the collection and dissemination of information will save the American republic. Thus there are Walter Isaacson over at Time Magazine, David Lazarus of the LA Times, and David Carr of the New York Times (among many others) who insist that readers pay for their news or suffer an increase in corruption or the end of the republic. According to these sources, if news dissemination moves to the Internet, we must adopt a new, lucrative business model that will generate revenue sufficient to support their extensive news operations.
At least L. Gordon Crovitz over at the Wall Street Journal is up front about his perceived need to feather journalists' nests. Under the heading "Information Wants to Be Expensive" he writes:
People are happy to pay for news and information however it's delivered, but only if it has real, differentiated value. Traders must have their Bloomberg or Thomson Reuters terminal. Lawyers wouldn't go to court without accessing the Lexis or West online service.
I wouldn't say I'm happy to pay for my news, especially when the traditional news-gathering operations set much of the agenda of what is worth investigating and knowing about and what isn't.
What traditionalists contemplating the future of news on the Internet don't mention is that the need to charge their readers is a result of the hyperlink structure of the World Wide Web itself where banner ads have not yet (and may never) replace the revenue generated by print advertising.
Under the current business model in newspapers, the amount of news that is "fit to print" is determined by the number of column inches of advertising sold. The money I pay for my personal copy of the paper largely goes to support the newsstand where I make my purchase.
Of course, setting up pay tiers for information automatically creates text-based information "haves" and broadcast media-based information "have-nots", not exactly what the Founding Fathers envisioned when they drew up the First Amendment. Those who can pay will get the Internet value; the rest of us news seekers will have to watch or listen to broadcast headlines.
There are alternatives already in production on the Web. Blogs, wikis, Facebook groups, Twitter cabals, and many other information sharing operations are still in the process of becoming, but may have the potential to replace the key functions of mainstream media with free, open access to just the information each of us needs. As David Bollier notes in The Huffington Post, a myriad of below-the-radar activities on the Web are undermining corporate gatekeeping and control of news content. He states, “There are now countless online communities dedicated to generating their own content. It turns out that the joys of shopping pale in comparison to the pleasures of sharing and curating information with a community of peers.”
One can easily imagine a near future without newsprint:
Well, it's been two years since the last printed newspaper shut down and I’ve finally settled into the newspaperless media ecology. My day started with a two way tweet to President Obama concerning the latest stimulus package, protesting the inclusion of yet another bailout for NBC, CBS and ABC. The President agrees that network broadcasting is obsolete, but we can’t afford to let the three majors fail. Meanwhile, over at FOX, the “all reality programming all the time” former network, Bill O’Reilly was voted off “Debating with the Stars.”
I pulled out my handheld to review this hour’s digital news headlines, some of which I had contributed, when I noticed that our new puppy, Rush, had had another accident on the new carpet. “Bad boy!” I scolded him, tapping him lightly on the nose with my PDA. I completed my other chores, cycling out the old disposable laptop from the bottom of the budgie cage and lining the bottom of the garbage pail with old thumbdrive detritus. I wonder what we used before they came up with that solution?
As usual to start my work day, I exchanged text messages with my congressman, my senator, and my friend in the Middle East who keeps my Facebook group up to date on the Palestine-Israeli détente. I noted that my YouTube video has achieved 100,000+ views and surveyed some of the response videos. I considered starting a new group, “Media Ecologists against the use of sepia tone videos” but put it off until later.
Later I set up a three-way video conference with my SO who is away on business in Chicago and my daughter, who is on a mid-term break trip to Africa. We finalized plans for our family vacation this summer to one of the new National Tree Farm Parks that recently opened while the country gives the older national parks a few years fallow time to recover from the Bush years.
My daughter is researching and shooting a school report on the history of newspapers and had some questions:
Is it true that the first toy airplanes were made out of something called "paper"?
Did opinion columns and editorials once only go one way?
What is papier maché?
As printed newspapers go the way of buggy whips, antimacassers, and Republicans, it is comforting to know that the traditions and the triumphs of the age of newspaper journalism is being preserved by the Newseum in Washington D.C. (which bills itself as "the world's most interactive museum")… and online. Someday I’ll take my daughter there to see it in person.
So, Professor Goldman, perhaps the better message to your students (and would-be future journalists) would be: "Make love to the new media, not war!"