Thursday, August 2, 2012

Allan D Mutter, the Newsosaur, blogs articles about the state and future of newspapers. He is NOT particularly optimistic.

MONDAY, JULY 16, 2012

Why ‘future of journalism’ confabs fail

After recently attending the latest in the never-ending series of “future of journalism” conferences, I finally realized why they all fail:  They don’t include the right people. 

While these well-intended yakfests are rich in whining and dining ops, journo-futuramas generate few practical or actionable ideas because they lack the perspectives of four key constituencies:  

∷ Consumers – The actual people who not only consume journalism but evidently will create growing amounts of it in the future.   

∷ Technologists – The actual people who are creating the platforms on which consumers will get and give information in the future. 

∷ Marketers – The actual people whose advertising purchases historically underwrote journalism and, given the right sorts of products and services, might continue to do so in the future.   

∷ Investors – The actual people who could bankroll innovative commercial or non-profit ventures to sustain journalism in the future.   

Instead of bringing together these diverse and strategically vital stakeholders, the usual journo-futurama is composed largely of white, middle-aged newspapermen (or, more likely, former newspapermen) who came up in the day when cold type was the hot new technology. 

While my fellow newsosaurs contribute welcome institutional knowledge and gravitas to any discussion, they represent a significantly outdated view of what journalism is, what it ought to be – and how it may manifest itself in the future. 

Their views were shaped in the pre-interactive era, when journalists, in their sole discretion, decided who to cover, what to report, what to write and when to publish it.  Apart from the occasional crayon-scribbled note that arrived in the mail, readers seldom talked back, leaving little reason to doubt the work was being well received.  This led to the ill-advised belief that journalists, in their sole discretion, were wise enough to know what readers wanted, whether they really wanted it or not. 

Unfortunately, this type of one-way, prescriptive thinking suffuses journo-futuramas. But it is seriously out of step with the real world, where readers not only can talk back to the media but also publish news and commentary on their own.  Politicians, entertainers, marketers and even humble hockey moms can bypass the legacy news media by establishing direct, one-to-one connections with their intended audiences.

Those of us worried about the future of journalism need to understand today’s marketplace on its own terms.  Instead of relying on seat-of-the pants intuition and wistful thinking, we need reliable research and objective data to come up with relevant new formats and forums for journalism.       

That means listening to consumers, technologists, marketers, investors and others who form the many constituencies for whatever shape(s) journalism takes in the digital age. 

The most important things that press vets can bring to journo-futuramas are strong advocacy for the immutable values of public-interest journalism: fair reporting, balanced presentation and effective storytelling. 

Though we hope and trust these values will endure, it seems increasingly clear that the institutions traditionally responsible for supporting journalism may not be as capable of doing this in the digital age as they were in the era of snail media.  

To build next-gen journalism, we will need all the help we can get.  And that means bringing many more players to the table than the usual suspects who turn up at most journo-futuramas. 

If anyone out there wants to do this right, I am ready to help. Otherwise, I am all kvetched out. 

Alan D. Mutter is perhaps the only CEO in Silicon Valley who knows how to set type one letter at a time. Mutter began his career as a newspaper columnist and editor at the Chicago Daily News and later rose to City Editor of the Chicago Sun-Times. In 1984, he became No. 2 editor of the San Francisco Chronicle. He left the newspaper business in 1988 to join InterMedia Partners, a start-up that became one of the largest cable-TV companies in the U.S. Mutter was the COO of InterMedia when he moved to Silicon Valley in 1996 to join the first of the three start-up companies he led as CEO. The companies he headed were a pioneering Internet service provider and two enterprise-software companies. Mutter now is a consultant specializing in corporate initiatives and new media ventures involving journalism and technology. He ordinarily does not write about clients or subjects that will affect their interests. In the rare event he does, this will be fully disclosed. Mutter also is on the adjunct faculty of the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California at Berkeley.