News junkies everywhere know that it is the best of times, as news is presented in various forms through a multitude of channels, often in real time — but fear the worst of times, as the implosion of the former monolith of print news threatens the existence of journalism as a profession.
Clay Shirky writes a very sage and direct post on the end of the printed newspaper, and particularly faults the coverage of this decline in, well, the printed media. He does not mince his words:
Journalists have been infantilized throughout the last decade, kept in a state of relative ignorance about the firms that employ them. A friend tells a story of reporters being asked the paid print circulation of their own publication. Their guesses ranged from 150,000 to 300,000; the actual figure was 35,000. If a reporter was that uninformed about a business he was covering, he’d be taken off the story.
The head-in-the-sand determination to ignore the trends that Shirky outlines are sadly hilarious. Without some of the mettle, Andrew Leanord at Salon weighs in as well, noting that the profession of professional journalist is likely to vanish, as exemplified by the Huffington Post’s decision to crowd-source donations to pay a journalist to cover activities in Ferguson.
On the other side, venture capitalist Marc Andreesen sees the future of the news business. Marc is not the only technologist to see promise in the carapace of newsprint, as he notes Jeff Bezos’s purchase of The Washington Post, Facebook co-founder Chris Hugehes buying The New Republic, and Pierre Omidyar’s multi-million commitment to First Look Media. Andreesen’s future for news looks very different:
If you extrapolate from the number of smartphones globally, the total addressable market for news by 2020 is around 5 billion people worldwide. However, we all have to get more sophisticated about defining and segmenting markets. It is critical to really understand the who, where, when, and why to serve that massive market effectively. […] The winners in these markets either offer the broadest breadth or the deepest depth. In evolving markets neither the broadest nor deepest is in trouble, but the middle market is withering. So it is logical to expect the big winners in the news business to either be the broadest or the deepest.
Andreesen goes on to name names: the companies and organizations he sees pushing these new frontiers. And this list echos a some advice from Shirky: journalists need to get experience “working in teams, and in launching new things.” The groups in Andreesen’s post are doing exactly that, which is not, as this Kickstarter campaign aptly illustrates, the way of newsrooms past.