We can. We will. We must.

I am strongly disappointed by the out-right negativity permeating through journalism right now.

The anger, the negativity, the we-can’t attitude hit a flash point on an intern’s post about job cuts and a newsroom reorganization. Yes, grown-up journalists were using an intern as a punching bag.

If you don’t believe journalism can be turned around, leave now. Find a new career. A prerequisite for success is believing in yourself.

Enthusiastic, bright-eyed, thoughtful and energetic interns and journalism students — the kinds of people we’ll need to turn this industry around — are being told to find a new career by angry journalists. Jessica DaSilva has encountered this in several internships:

Another problem I (and my peers) have encountered in internships is an eagerness to turn us away from journalism or jade us in some way. We all wonder why. I mean, if we all followed the popular mantra of “go to law school and make your mother proud,” then what would be the future of journalism?

Discouraging people who want to save journalism is not going to help us save journalism. And trust me, journalism needs to be saved. But it can only be saved by people who believe that journalism can and will thrive.

Do you believe?

I believe in journalism. In fact, I think the Internet is the greatest thing to ever happen to journalism. Now people can interact with news.

People can have a voice. And reporters can embrace interacting with the community. That’s a powerful thing.

The Internet and the Web are fundamentally better at disseminating news and information than either print or broadcast. People have been voting with their eyeballs and dollars. As journalists, we need to be where people are.

Now, I’m not going to sit here and say every newsroom reorganization is going to be successful. Many — perhaps most — will not be. But I would rather try something new and risk the potential for failure — or success — than continue doing something that I know will fail.

And if most news organizations continue down the path they are on right now, they will fail. Change isn’t easy, but it’s the only way to turn things around. It’s important for news organizations to realize that innovation often requires a reallocation of resources.

It’s easier to believe that there is no solution, rather than come up with one. That’s an idea that is killing journalism. It’s an idea that sustains the curmudgeon tribe of journalists.

There are solutions and there have been Web success stories. CNET has become a powerful and successful force in tech news on the Web. CBS recently bought CNET for $1.8 billion.

Blog network and advocacy journalism innovator The Huffington Post is worth upwards of $100 million. TechCrunch has 3.2 million unique visitors and is ranked in the top 1,000 most visited sites in the world by Alexa. Not bad for tech blog staffed by a handful of employees.

All of these examples have one thing in common: They don’t look and operate like legacy media companies. They exploit the strengths of the medium they are working on. How many newspapers and legacy news organizations can say they have really exploited the Web as a medium?

Companies make money off the Web all the time. If journalism companies want to succeed on the Web they can. But that means making tough decisions.

It means cutting some legacy staff. It means reallocating resources. It means taking risks — sometimes huge risks.

All this talk about how journalism is a public service and how it protects democracy will mean nothing if we don’t believe in ourselves and take risks. The future of journalism depends on it.

I believe. Do you?

  • http://kiyoshimartinez.com/ Kiyoshi Martinez

    This probably sounds weird coming from a guy who created a place for negativity in journalism, but I tend to agree with most of what you’re saying.

    I don’t think being negative in itself is a bad thing, but it’s about refocusing that anger and turning it into something positive. This can come in a variety of ways. For me, I decided to change my career. For others, it can mean pushing themselves to learn new things and go on a path toward a happier journalism career doing something different in the field.

    But to take it out on an intern, that’s really low. Especially to do it anonymously. There’s a word for that: “coward.” If you have to chew out some intern on their personal blog to make yourself feel better about your life, then you need to take the time to re-evaluate your situation.

    Maybe instead of complaining about what some “naive” intern said you should take your “years of experience” and start thinking of ways to be a part of the solution. The problem might be in large part the owners of these newspaper companies, but some people need to take a look in the mirror and realize they were part of the problem, too.

    These news veterans need to man up and take responsibility. An intern isn’t the reason why you’re being shown the door.

  • http://www.artesianmedia.com Dave LaFontaine

    Yesterday, NBC news did a 3-minute piece on how newspapers were stumbling towards extinction. KCRW in Los Angeles devoted an hour to a discussion on what a future without newspapers will look like. “Who will break the next Watergate, if there are no papers around?” they wailed.

    Which is, of course, missing the point. For good or ill, bloggers are starting to aggregate into filling the watchdog role that MSM is/has abandoned. From the “Rathergate” debunking of the memos in 2004 to the coverage of the Scooter Libby trial by Firedoglake last year, and TPM digging into the Justice Department attorney firings, blogs are starting to score some victories. And yeah, I know, the difference between an amateur and a professional is that the amateur gets a hit on occasion, while the professional does it every day. But that line is getting blurred…

    So please keep up the positive energy. I too believe that one of the big reasons newspapers are plunging is the not-so-thinly veiled contempt for the readers that permeates many newsrooms. Grizzled cynicism (verging on nihilism) is seen as a valid replacement for actual critical thought and willingness to actually dare to try something new. The belief that nothing works, nothing will every change, everything sucks, so why bother is a self-fulfilling prophecy that allows the practitioners to pose as wounded souls who always get to crow “Toldja it wouldn’t work!” at every misstep.

  • http://www.teachj.wordpress.com TeachJ

    Maybe journalists of the next century won’t work for tired old media companies. That may not be so bad. I think they will work at places like ARS Tecnica, CNET, the Huffington Post, the Drudge Report, and yes even for Google. A few old media companies are getting the net – New York Times, Wall Street Journal, the Arizona Republic and they stand a good chance of making the transition.

    I think you are right, old timers need to get hip to the new way of doing business or go the way of transatlantic passenger liners, telegraphs, telephone operators, etc.

    You can either move with the changes in technology or stand on the tracks and wait to be run over by the train.

  • http://www.wenalway.com/forum Wenalway

    The people who should be used as punching bags are people like Pat and Kiyoshi. We don’t need clueless bits of advice from never-will-bes and PR hacks who couldn’t cut it in the journalism world.

    Kiyoshi, for example, had good credentials coming out of college and instead chose to be a coward. We don’t need gutless people telling experienced journalists to take responsibility.

  • http://mediageeks.ning.com/profile/MattNeznanski Matt Neznanski

    Don’t forget that two years from now, we’ll all be shaking our heads at predictions of what’s to come for journalism. With that in mind, I resist the urge to camp with bloggers, dead-tree or TV reporters.
    Fact is that it’s all journalism. Short and long. Breaking and investigative. Video and words.
    Our work empowers people. It organizes people’s lives. It’s the heart of communities.
    That’s when it’s at its best. If sweating bullets at newspapers now gets me out from under the press-release rewrite bullshit in small newsrooms to do real journalism, great.
    In part, that means we have take the kinds of questions we put to CEOs and elected officials and ask them of our own organizations. You don’t hire hardnosed reporters and expect them not to turn on you now and again. Or you shouldn’t. At least not anymore.
    Can you tell I’m excited about the future of journalism? I don’t have to ask the ones who aren’t to get out of the way. The market’s already rolling over them.

  • John Cotey

    I don’t think the big “fight” between the intern and the “curmudgeons” was about the direction of journalism, inasmuch as it was about the sycophantic tone of the blog post on a day when some friends of some people lost their jobs. At least that’s the way I took it, and I don’t have a dog in the fight (I’m a 15-year vet and of curmudgeon age, but I have new school sensibilities). I think the wacky old internet made the curmudgeons look almost cartoonishly more curmudgeonly, and made DaSilva out to be a heroine. I watched as I would a car wreck, sad for both sides.

    My only beef is with the people who think because they hang out on Twitter/FriendFeed/Facebook they are somehow inherently better equipped for the future. It’s still all about breaking news and story telling, though clearly you will need to know how to do each in multiple formats to stay viable.

  • http://www.wenalway.com/forum Wenalway

    “My only beef is with the people who think because they hang out on Twitter/FriendFeed/Facebook they are somehow inherently better equipped for the future.”

    You’re bursting Pat’s bubble with that one. He and the other Wired crazies hold that philosophy near and dear. That, and their use of the word “curmudgeon.” They’re proud of their new word! They love to use it!

    And Kiyoshi loves to Twitter — when he’s not grinding out PR hackery, of course.

  • http://dallasisdblog.dallasnews.com/ Kent Fischer, Dallas Morning News

    My problem isn’t with “pushing themselves to learn new things” or with “it’s all journalism” or even with “old timers [who] need to get hip.”

    My problem is that the ideas espoused as “the future” of journalism don’t yet pay. Hey, I’m learning and adapting everyday (and I think I’m out there farther than many print reporters) but damn, I still need a decent paycheck to support my family.

    Print may be dying, but it still pays. How many of you ever got Ning to pay your mortgage?

  • http://www.patthorntonfiles.com pat

    @Kent,

    I’ve seen very few successful Ning networks. That doesn’t mean Ning can’t be a useful tool, but it won’t be paying the bills anytime soon.

    You could certainly feed your family with a successful blog. Heck, you can even build an empire with blogging. Just look at the HuPo and TechCrunch.

    Money can be made online, but it requires a different mindset and different ways of operating. Most newspapers really haven’t tried to make money online, because they are too concerned with protecting the print product.

    Often the best Web ideas might cannibalize some print resources. That’s how things work. I know your paper has had to make some print cuts the last few years. There is no way your paper is going to be able to do serious innovation online — and make money online — without sacrificing some print resources.

    The problem is that most of the people in charge at newspapers can’t envision doing anything other than the print product.

  • http://dallasisdblog.dallasnews.com/ Kent Fischer, Dallas Morning News

    Pat,

    How much does HuPo pay its contributors? How many paid staffers does TechCrunch have? My point is that those cool jobs are few and far between, and while I do have some cool ideas of my own, heading out into the Great Wide Open make them happen is a pretty daunting task with two kids and a mortgage that need to be fed.

    You wrote of old media types that “they are too concerned with protecting the print product.” That’s true, but deserves a caveat. In my experience, print people know print is dying. Their goal is to nurse print along until online pays. Once those revenue lines intersect, they’ll be willing to let print die. Until then, print pays the bills so print gets to eat first.

    I’m beginning to think, though, that the *problem* with journalism isn’t the journalists or the journalism — it’s the advertising shop. They’re the ones who aren’t adapting.

    Example No. 1: As you know, I have a somewhat successful beatblog at Dallasnews.com covering education. Go there and check out what ads my company is presenting to my niche audience: Lending Tree, T-Mobile and Coach are the ads up now. Now head on over to any of our other blogs. What are the ads? Lending Tree, T-Mobile and Coach.

  • http://www.john-zhu.com John Zhu

    @John Cotey: Good observation about being on Twitter/Facebook not equaling being well-equipped to be a good journalist. I totally agree. They are tools. Not knowing how to use those tools will hinder your work, but just knowing how to use one or two journalism tools doesn’t make one the future of journalism.

    @Kent Fischer: A lot of good points in your comments, Kent. Sure there are examples of journalism sites making money, but I have yet to see any model that can be applied on an industry-wide scale.

    @Pat: I believe. I believe in journalism. I believe that the Web’s capability for instant and widespread dissemination and user feedback is great for journalism. I believe there is a future for journalism and that a solution can be found. I even have some ideas about what that solution might be.

    What I don’t believe is that the legacy media companies are the ones to find it, or that even if they see the solution, they would embrace it. To me, the biggest reason for the reluctance to give up the print product isn’t the attachment of a tribe of “curmudgeon” writers in the newsroom, it’s the attachment of owners and shareholders to the 20-30% profits that print product has been bringing in.

    I believe the future of journalism will never be as profitable for most individual companies as it has been and still is now (albeit to a lesser degree). There will be money to be made, and plenty of it, but it will not be as concentrated in the hands of a relative few as it is now. The owners, corporate execs, and shareholders aren’t invested in these legacy companies for altruistic reasons, so they sure as heck aren’t going to accept any plan that will mean making LESS money than before, even if it’s a plan for sustainable journalism.

    That’s why I quit the business. I have better things to do with my life than serve as a pawn for multi-million-dollar corporations whose ultimate goal is more money rather than journalism and who capitalize on the passion that I and countless other journalists have for their craft to obtain that end, all the while pillaging the thing they claim to cherish. That’s not a curmudgeon’s cynical view. That’s me taking off the shroud of journalistic nobility and evaluating the situation dispassionately: Good journalism (it doesn’t matter what your definition of that term may be, just as long as you have a definition) doesn’t necessarily translate into good business.

    I definitely agree with you that it is necessary to re-allocate resources to boost the online product. However, my problem is that most of the time newsroom cuts aren’t made so that they can replace legacy staff/resources with online resources. It’s just a loss of resources. Also, in my experience I find that it’s difficult to separate the “legacy staff” from the “online staff”. Sure, there are those whose job it is to solely work on the online product, but where does the majority of the content in your online product come from? That “legacy staff” of writers, columnists, photographers, all of whom are producing work for both the print and the online product. So when a columnist/writer/photographer gets axed, it’s not a re-allocation of resources, it’s just elimination.

  • http://dallasisdblog.dallasnews.com/ Kent Fischer, Dallas Morning News

    From Project for Excellence in Journalism:

    “Convincing newspaper advertising sales staff to become more active in selling to the web is also viewed as an essential, overdue step, even if it’s not easy. Roughly 90% of advertising sales remain with the print media. In interviews, newsroom executives complained that advertising departments traditionally have been far more resistant than their editorial counterparts to the changes brought by the Internet Age. Understandably, there is less incentive to go after a pot containing 10% of the revenues than to go after one with 90%. But some editors warn that if advertising staffs don’t shift their focus now, they could end up with nothing in a matter of years because there would be no print edition left.”

    Hmmm. So maybe the problem isn’t so much in the newsrooms as it is in the advertising offices. So … who’s going to create the first blog designed to kick advertising sales people in the groin, and blame them for the demise of journalism? Anyone?

  • http://www.patthorntonfiles.com pat

    @Kent,

    I’ve often said that it is the business, marketing and advertising staffs that really don’t get it.

    And, honestly, they have less incentive to get it. For journalists, figuring out how to transition our products to the Web is paramount. Most journalists really care about journalism and want to see it succeed.

    The same can’t be said for other staffs at newspapers. Some of those people may really like advertising or marketing or finance. But do they love journalism?

    That’s the thing. They would be happy doing the same thing for another company in another industry. Case in point, my brother used to work for Tribune in Chicago. He wasn’t married to journalism. He got up and left for a better job with a company that has a much healthier balance sheet.

    He gets to do a similar job, except he gets paid more with better benefits and job security. You tell me which option sounds better.

    For non-editorial employees there isn’t the same incentive to innovate, and it is often their decisions or indecisions that set us back the most.

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