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Now the Details

Media, ethics, and journalism. What works. What doesn't.

Jeffrey Dvorkin

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Where Do We Go From Here? Online, Of Course.

The hits just keep on coming. Over the past few weeks, more newspapers announce or are about to announce further reductions in staff. The New York Times, the Washington Post, the Tribune Group - all anticipate that their costs must come down. Some of that is straight accounting. You can't spend what you don't have. Other aspects are because of market competition and shareholder pressure.

For media managers, the only way to do that is to that is to reduce expenses. In a labor intensive industry like newspapers, that means laying people off.

There's not much more to be said about how deeply counter-productive and damaging this is. I've been a journalistic mason, doing my part to add a few bricks to the media Wailing Wall. Yes, the situation is sad and deplorable.

But instead of more lamentations, what is needed now is to find some way to help the industry understand the transitions they face and how they can be at least accepted or hopefully, turned into something new and better in the interests of ensuring that journalism can serve the democracy more effectively than before.

I for one, don't think that newspapers are as dead as the trees on which they are printed. There remains a huge (if shifting) audience for what they do. NPR has shown that high quality news and information has an audience that is loyal and that is prepared to support a journalistic endeavor that expresses the values of that community. Can newspapers and other broadcast media ever find an audience with that kind of loyalty and devotion? I think they can, but it will require some soul searching and rethinking about the value of the journalistic product they create.

But newspapers, broadcasters and online will need to make appropriate partnerships amongst themselves. Some of these will be temporary; others may be more permanent while recognizing that being editorially nimble may be a necessary quality that is required. All will need to think about the specific functions they perform and that a news organization may provide different things at different times for different audiences. It is a whole new world.

Throughout all of this, one aspect remains constant: that online journalism is not going away and if anything, will only increase its presence and its influence.

Over the next few weeks, I will be joining an online video news operation called The Real News as Executive Director of Journalism.

The Real News has been around for five years. It's aim is to defend the public interest, to pursue facts over preconceived opinions by employing the best practices of thorough, verifiable reporting and to engage a younger and more diverse global audience to learn about the issues that affect us all. It's collaborative and links to media from all around the world.

I'm attracted to this for a couple of reasons: first, it is on line and I know that the future of journalism lies in that direction. It posts material on Youtube and that seems to be attracting a larger, new (and presumably younger) audience to journalism.

Second, it is news "with edge." An NPR listener wrote to me when I was their ombudsman and complained about how soft NPR had become. It was, he said, too timid about drawing conclusions, even when it had all the reportorial evidence. The Real News doesn't shy away from context and conclusions, and that's fine with me, as long as TRN shows that it has the reportorial horses.

Third, The Real News concentrates on international news and American electoral politics. It's based in Toronto and has bureaus in New York, Washington, DC, Los Angeles and London.

Fourth, The Real News won't accept government funding or advertising. It will take underwriting and individual financial support. That has been the key to NPR's success on the radio and online.

Finally, I am impressed by the people who work at The Real News. These are some very smart people who are deeply committed to contextual journalism.

So next week, I'll relocate to The Real News offices in Toronto.

I plan to keep blogging about this and other matters as I move to the next stage in this interesting journalistic journey.

I hope you'll take a look at the website and let me know your thoughts about whether TRN lives up to its own expectations.

1 comment:

  1. Jeffrey, I have to give you props for your eagerness to embrace online at a time when other journalists like the author of Friday Night Lights are freaking out about blogs. I like reading a newspaper over lunch, but I think making journalism available to everyone (or everyone with a computer and internet access) will be worth it in the end.

    -Will (from the Voice)