Saturday, January 06, 2007

Print journalists will find a Web home

Writing in the current issue of the Columbia Journalism Review, Mitchell Stephens, a professor of journalism at NYU and author of “A History of News,” argues that for print journalism to survive it can no longer compete with on-line journalism in covering news.

What newspapers can and must do, he argues, is provide dot-connecting, insightful analysis, and yes, informed opinion.

In short, print must be, in his words, “informed,” “interesting,” “intelligent,” “industrious” and “insightful.”

His recommendation is commendable but flawed as a cure for what ails print. Clearly on-line journalism already offers journalism steeped in the same “Five I”’s. Print does not own the franchise.

Certainly, as Stephens points out, print journalism is dying in part because it can no longer match the speed of on-line journalism. But print’s core problem is that the new technologies are cheap (as in free) and flexible. They are also readily and easily available. As a result, we are becoming acculturated and even conditioned to turn to them.

Instead of going out to gather in newspapers each morning, we routinely log on to computers—often laptops—and increasingly to mobile phones.

Where these convenient, multi-media information portals lead us is often where we choose to go, not where some distant editors decide to take us. The choice is ours: We are free to reinforce our biases—at our peril, by the way—or easily seek out new, challenging views.

And we can go to just about any depth of information we desire, all at the click of a mouse.

Lastly, if writing and reporting in the new media isn’t informed, industrious, interesting, intelligent and insightful, it simply won’t be read.

If Stephens persuades newspapers that their salvation is primarily in much needed news analysis and opinion, ultimately he will be doing readers of both old and new media a favor. As newspapers shrink and wither away, their unemployed but insightful, interesting, informed, industrious and intelligent journalists will find themselves right at home on the web.

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