Monday, January 15, 2007

News today that another young project touted in my book is on the ropes. This one is Backfence.com, a series of "hyperlocal" Web sites that's attempting to build a business model off citizen contributors in smaller communities.

The lack of sufficient audience to sustain revenue here, and the management shakeup, are all part of the sorting out process of creating new models for journalism on the Web. But the problems many of these startups are having should be a reality check for those offering utopian models of a world of journalism without journalists, or those who are a bit too eager to write off all forms of traditional journalism in favor of the brave new world.

That new world is coming, and it certainly won't resemble the ink-smudged hegemony newspapers enjoyed for much of the 20th century. But people are also making predictions and assumptions about what modern news audiences need and desire that have yet to come true. Universal access and the ability for every person to write their own stories might be cool and useful, but demand for people to help package and organize the world -- that is, editors -- hasn't abated. A consultant quoted in the above-linked story about Backfence is paraphrased saying, "Community news sites have to invest in the quality of the content before advertisers will take notice."

In other words, it's not just the medium; It's still the message. Excitement about the Internet and multimedia delivery methods isn't enough; we have to produce content that's worth consuming.

2 comments:

  1. You can find no place in my writing ever where I say to completely write off all forms of traditional journalism. I'm a traditional journalist as much as anybody. But I'm also a realist. I believe in serving communities, not serving egos, and I find most of the people fighting to protect "traditional journalism," according to their own narrow definitions, are really interested in protecting ego-fed journalism.

    It's such arrogance that is killing journalism.

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  2. Howard,

    The narrow definition I use of "traditional journalism" is the definition provided by Kovach and Rosenstiel in their book "The Elements of Journalism":

    "The primary purpose of journalism is to provide citizens with the information they need to be free and self-governing."

    I support any act of journalism, performed by any citizen or professional, on any platform, that aspires to this standard. What concerns me about heady "realist" assertions about the new era is the implication that any definition of news will do now, as long as it draws an audience. And, yeah, I reject that as both a journalist and a citizen.

    That doesn't mean I disagree with criticisms that much of today's traditional media are too source-driven, ego-driven and detached from regular people's concerns. That's legitimate, and I spend my book encouraging innvoative ways of producing journalism that focuses on people, problems and participation.

    But I'm not willing to say that pursuit of journalistic quality is a losing strategy. For the sake of our democratic system, it's the only strategy. And I don't believe it's arrogant to demand, as a citizen, that the content we call "news" in the new world be meaningful.

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