Reply to a tweeted link

Clay Shirky tweeted a link to this essay on the future of journalism, from Dan of Xark!. It isn’t accepting my comment, so I’m posting it here:

This is an interesting vision of the future, but I don’t see how it could possibly be the future of journalism.

For the sake of argument, I’ll assume that collecting news data and maintaining a usefully-organized database of it is a viable business model. I agree that it would not be newspapers who led this, but more likely a web-only company.

But newspapers (and to a much lesser extent, television) are the organizations that have an institutional commitment to investigative journalism (the kind that isn’t database-friendly and that is the main thing people fret about losing). Why would a news informatics company, which would lack that institutional commitment, use its profit to subsidize investigative journalism that isn’t itself profitable?

For newspapers, there have been two jobs that only meet economically at the broadest levels: to sell ads, and to create compelling content for readers. Economics didn’t figure in directly in the choice of whether to send a reporter to the court house or fire; rather, that choice was made within the editorial sphere. For news informatics, every choice of coverage has economic implications: which kind of data will people be paying to access? In that environment, in what is sure to be a tough market to establish, would news informatics companies fund investigative journalism out of sheer civic responsibility?

One thought on “Reply to a tweeted link”

  1. Hey, sorry my blog wouldn’t take your comment. I wonder what’s up with that? Anyway, thanks for reading and responding.

    In answer to your question (“Why would a news informatics company, which would lack that institutional commitment, use its profit to subsidize investigative journalism that isn’t itself profitable?”)… I truly believe that adding an informatics component to journalism would not only improve reporting, but would generate more reporting of the investigative variety. Can’t prove it, just believe it.

    And as I’ve written somewhere else, the notion that investigative reporting is a major function of most news organizations isn’t founded in fact. Weeks and months will go by without a true investigative story, and now even boring old beat reporting (which to my mind is generally more valuable and important) is dying.

    And in a sense, the reason for this is what you supposed: The advertising model doesn’t support quality journalism. It just wants eyeballs. If junk and cheap controversy attract eyeballs more cost-efficiently than quality reporting (and yes, this happens to be true), then quality reporting is “idealistic stuff” that “doesn’t pay the bills.”

    When I came up “in the business,” there was an idea called “the paper of record.” It meant there were things we wrote about just to make those things public, or else they would never be known and recorded. This idea survives only rarely now, 20 years later. So if you’re trying to imagine where my informatics idea comes from, that’s it.

    Journalism and advertising aren’t likely to be severed, and attracting attention will always have a value. I adding a revenue stream, not cutting all the others.

    Anyway, thanks for the link.

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