Confessions of a former journalist: Why the newspaper industry is crumbling?

19 Jan

Old Media

Technology continues to bedevil newspapers, which saw this huge necessary revamping and chose to avoid it.

Summary: Ah, has it been two years already since I slipped the surly bonds of journalism (via the Toledo Blade) to touch the face of freedom?  This is a response to a request from a forensics student at Ohio University: “Why is the newspaper industry crumbling?”

Newspapers had for so long held the upper hand. The business platform worked to score extraordinary profits. You needed a large pool of average workers to collect and produce a product for mass consumption. Copy was written for a 6th grade education level. Photography, advertisements, comics, memes and topics (sports and weather) appealed to a large and easy-to-please segment of the public. Publishers rationed favor and status for a select set of high-end columnists and enterprise writers. With no other competing platform – classified advertising produced a surge of profits.

With this financial stranglehold, newspaper organizations walked with a swagger and behaved as though they were above the law. I have attended editorial meetings at five different news organizations, and for all the talk of “First Amendment responsibilities” and “watchdog of the people” there was always the compelling influence of the publisher seeping into many aspects of news coverage and story selection. And that’s before you factor in the bias of 90 percent of journalism grads and newspaper guild members.

Lack of ‘real people’

Objective? There is a jaded, dog-eared playbook that is followed by harried and disgruntled writers and editors that consistently produces an outer-worldly vision of life. This particular lack of ‘real people’ (sources and subjects) becomes so pronounced because real people don’t adhere to deadlines, and don’t fit the standardized and formatted nature of the news cycle. Journalists are essentially lazy. If it can’t be produced in an 8.5-hour shift (subtracting a 45 minute lunch, 15 minute smoke break, and 15 minute ergonomic rest) then it’s not news.

That’s the problem with journalism’s dated model. It is fashioned on the assembly line pattern with cog workers, and this efficiency is necessary to produce profits. The industry can’t help doing what it was engineered to do – the shark can’t help but swim and eat. News organizations can’t hire swarms of creative and unique workers, can’t produce individual narratives, can’t quickly and nimbly produce usable content and can’t possibly do it without defaulting to its built-in biases.

Ceding credibility

Technology continues to bedevil newspapers, which saw this huge necessary revamping and chose to avoid it. Overtures were made to large news organizations by tech companies like Apple and Amazon and AT&T years ago to incorporate and blend the news organization business model into the iPhone, mobile devices and other e-commerce solutions. News organizations balked at sharing, and couldn’t even get their head around the fact that skipping (and delaying) this opportunity would leave them with nothing on the table years later. News organizations tried and are still trying to shield their content behind pay walls, convinced that the big numbers of subscribers and advertisers – they once assumed – would regenerate. By ceding their credibility to their biases and stiffing the share model of news gathering – readers themselves are replacing the authority of news organizations. Crowd-sourced content from eye-witnesses and content experts now supplant the news industry’s lock on the ‘news.’

Arrogance and technical ignorance have hobbled the industry, which gazes wistfully at walls full of awards and accolades (and press coverage) and is dumbfounded as to why these rubes don’t covet the product.

The organization publishing model is dead. If you don’t like the lazy tag then take it out of the frame and share your gift on your own terms.


One Response to “Confessions of a former journalist: Why the newspaper industry is crumbling?”


  1. Build a better college newspaper website « i scream social - October 21, 2011

    […] a checklist of online adjustments and guidance for a better college newspaper website. Change is difficult for newspapers. There are learning curves and time management issues in making these changes, but muscle up and […]

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