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Universal Reporters Versus Specialist Bloggers

Peter Day

Proof 2010: Journalists Defending Journalism
Set 1, January 2010 The Scale and Origins of the Threat to Journalism

Andrew Calcutt’s piece is a much needed laying out of both the requirement for and the context of ‘conventional’ journalism, with some interesting observations on the way the buck is being passed in the argument, if that is the phrase. I ticked in particular the continuous comparison paragraph, identifying the nature of craft professionalism. Also the sheep-like management (late) conversion to a new platform all in a rush, forgetting the (expensive) truth that new technologies do not supplant but exist alongside, thereby compounding the confusion of working out new business methods. And lastly the conviviality paragraph: this nervous and ever changing tension between the truth telling role of journalism and the entertainment role causes profound muddles (especially in broadcasting), without even going into the News as Entertainment confusion.

One thing that might also be worth addressing (because it is difficult) is Dave Winer’s dismissal of conventional journalism because if you know anything about the subject in question you feel shortchanged (as he did on technology) by the way it is reported. That is his main argument for the supremacy of the blogger, and to an audience of early-adopter, tech savvy specialists it is a compelling one. And he did ‘win’ his Long Bet.

[In 2002, Winer and Martin Nisenholtz, CEO of New York Times Digital, each staked $2000 for and against the proposition that ‘in a Google search of five keywords or phrases representing the top five news stories of 2007, weblogs will rank higher than the New York Times website’. Five years later Winer took the money, and along with it, evidence to support his conviction that people are finding the information they want not from professional journalists but from trusted amateur writers. More recently the New York Times has re-engineered its reporting for digital consumption: subscribers to Times Reader 2.0 can download it for $3.45 a week.]

I notice that Carlos Slim, the Mexican billionaire who bought a 6.4 per cent stake in the New York Times Company and then followed this with $250m of additional re-financing, has been saying it is the content he is interested in not the printed word. He compared news-papers with transport companies at the turn of the twentieth century: some climbed onto the new platform (the automobile), while those that continued to ride horses were eventually thrown off. Slim did not sound as though he was mouthing adviser’s strategic imperatives, which is what such people often do.

I also notice that Mr Murdoch has been here in London recently, talking to people about charging (micropayments) for online access to his papers other than the Wall Street Journal which already does it. Much depends on whether this works as an emerging model for the news business.

Peter Day is presenter of In Business (BBC Radio 4) and Global Business (BBC World Service)



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