Dependency and Growth in Digital Journalism

printanddigitaljournalism

Digital journalism is vastly different than its great-grandfather, print media. But the genes still show through in subtle ways.

In digital journalism, content creation can come from anyone–in the article Newspapers and the Unthinkable, the author described a 14-year old who “pirated” the work of one of his favorite authors by copying the original text and distributing it online for others to read. Bloggers don’t need journalism degrees from Columbia, USC, or U Penn; they just need access to wifi and a blog website.

Traditional journalists are uncomfortable with this transition, noting a shift in demographics, “Many of these models will rely on amateurs as researchers and writers. Many of these models will rely on sponsorship or grants or endowments instead of revenues. Many of these models will rely on excitable 14 year olds distributing the results.”  They argue that journalistic quality is diminishing because people who aren’t formally trained are  controlling the creation of online content. And while these new models will diversify journalism, the author of these piece argues that, “Many of these models will fail.” The author’s view is rooted in excellence as related to selectivity. Though it is important to be educated in your field, whose to say that Palestinian bloggers on the ground are less adept at reporting on warfare than an “esteemed” journalist in a modern Los Angeles office.

In fact, the exclusive writers in the aforementioned offices don’t even reflect the demographics they are reporting to. In The Halving of America’s Daily Newsrooms, the author reports that publications admit to having, “19.2% minority diverse workforce…it’s the news poverty we — readers — are experiencing.” The decline in diversity is part of a larger decline in reporters for “traditional” publications. “If we project the recent decline forward, we’ll have one-half the number of daily journalists working in 2016 or 2017 as we did 16 years ago.” While traditional publications are lacking in diversity and staff, online journalists are consistently growing in authors and readers.

Even still, online publications lack in finding revenue sources to fuel their growth. In Blogonomics, an overview of the blogger Maria Popova, the author described the use of kickstarter-type campaigns to fund the incomes of online bloggers. While traditional publications receive consistent sources of funding to provide their employees–its great-grandchild has had to improvise. Maria Popova, an online blogger describes her struggle to sustain herself through her work, “I work hard, I put all my time into this, and I have no other source of income, so please give generously to support what I do…Brain Pickings remains free (and ad-free) and takes me hundreds of hours a month to research and write, and thousands of dollars to sustain. If you find any joy and value in what I do, please consider becoming a Member and supporting with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner.”

Some online publications don’t see a conflict between themselves and traditional news sources. In How Four Newspaper Organizations Created New Revenue Streams, four case studies of online publications showed alternative methods for generating revenue. Newspapers were able to increase and build revenue streams by “Managing the digital and legacy businesses separately, developing niche editorial products, Decentralizing decision-making power, Establish ingthe digital agency as an independent business, Rebuilding editorial philosophy around what you do best,” and most importantly, not giving up “on print.”

And bizarrely enough, traditional print or legacy sources are still necessary-even in the context of online journalism. The State of News Media 2015 reported that online journalists and bloggers still relied on print/legacy publications as the background for their reporting. They still crafted their articles around the stories written by other print authors.

The relationship between great-grandfather and great-grandchild isn’t as far off as it may seem.

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