I remain fascinated by the state of journalism and news today. The Internet has turned everything upside down, the game has changed, and everyone is still trying to sort out the rules. Newspapers and magazines used to be the primary means of staying informed. Today we have TV, radio, and everything on the Internet.
As with every cultural and technological change, opportunity abounds for the people and the companies who envision the future. That does not mean the transition will be easy and cheap. It does mean the transition will execute to deliver a new normal.
Whatever that new normal is, it must be genuine, truthful, and reliable. Tim Berners-Lee puts that challenge in front of journalists (John Huey, Martin Nisenholtz, and Paul Sagan, “The New News Business” Fortune, July 22, 2013, pp. 78–82):
“There’s a need for journalism. People are desperate for it. People are fed up with spam. They’re fed up with just searching, using a web search tool to find a medical article, then realizing only after they have gone to the bottom of the article, and followed the advice, and bought the drugs that the whole thing was produced by the same pharmaceutical company, with an extremely slanted view . . . People are fed up with that, and journalists have got the skills and the motivation. It’s their job to solve that problem.” (p. 82)
Yes, that is a major frustration for readers. Journalists have much to do to resolve it. However, never in history have readers had literally at their fingertips the ability to fact check any news report. If you are suspicious of what one story purports, you can easily navigate to other sources to seek confirmation or correction. News consumers are becoming more empowered, and to the news purveyors, that can be either invigorating or frightening. It all depends on their ethics and their quality.
Matters will probably become more tumultuous before our transition to the new normal is complete. As it occurs, the turbulence will increase and the opportunities will abound. Huey, Nisenholtz, and Sagan conclude similarly:
“The transition from what’s left of the old legacy news business to whatever comes next is likely to be the swiftest undertow yet of the digital riptide. We’re in a period of fierce creative destruction where we are both awash in more news than ever—with glimmers of new business models emerging, such as paywalls on some news sites starting to yield significant revenue streams—and feeling the ebb of independent, verifiable, and sustainable reporting. The next full moon, the next hurricane, the next digital media breakthrough seems bound to take down a lot of familiar swimmers before it all works out somehow.” (p. 82)
It is the news’ new normal. Get used to it—until it changes again.