Free Advice: How to Save Journalism

On Twitter this morning I was getting cranky at an organization that desperately needs to retain me as a consultant but won’t for whatever reason. I approached the point where I was about to dispense free advice (which violates rule #2 of consulting).

Amy thought that I was putting out a general call for free advice, so she asked me to provide some free advice to fix journalism. That is something I can sink my teeth into. So here are some quick thoughts:

Eliminate the distinction between “mainstream media” and “blogging”. Blogging is mainstream and has been for years now. What we’ve been referring to as “mainstream media” is really “large corporate media,” and that model is finished.

The newsroom is dead. The near future of journalism will involve small, self-organizing teams that pursue their own business models and resemble networks of cooperating small businesses more than monolithic institutions like the New York Times, the AP or NPR.

The days of picking fights with men who buy ink by the barrel are over; the web server is the new printing press. Reporters need to educate themselves as to the implications (business, technical, social, etc.) of this. One important implication is that the “news hole” is now infinitely large.

People who get their news from one source (particularly if that source is television) get what they deserve. But conversely, if TV news is the path of least resistance for news consumers, that’s our fault.

We need to find a place for the thoughtful, informed editor in the new order. (It’s not Wikipedia.)

Eliminate middlemen. All of them, if you can. Even the ones who want to give you something for free in exchange for fractional control over your printing press.

Understand the difference between “objectivity” and reporting the side of the story that happens to be bullshit.

Make alliances to achieve critical mass. This flies in the face of the stereotypical reporter who spends all day fighting city hall and hammers out a screed on deadline. That model is dead (to the extent that it was ever true to begin with).

Eliminate the divide between reportage and technology, and figure out a way to bring technologists closer to reporters.

Figure out what technology product managers do, and emulate them or retain the services of one.

Eliminate the divide between editorial and the business side of news reporting.

Eliminate the divide between “hard news” and what people really want to read about. The part where newspapers permitted stuff like sports and celebrity news to become the bailiwick of sites like espn.com and tmz.com was a colossal error. One Perez Hilton could fund a team of investigative fireballs.

Figure out a way to make “citizen journalism” a first-class citizen.

Look at PBS and NPR as one possible model for funding, but make sure you ultimately have more than one revenue stream. (Note the case of Ana Marie Cox, one of the few political commentators worth reading, whose magazine folded in the final weeks of the presidential campaign and who staged a one-person pledge drive to raise the funds so she could continue covering the campaign.) And never stop looking for new revenue streams.

Think about new taxonomies for news that will enable new syndication opportunities.

Make buying professional news as easy and as cheap as buying an MP3 online.