Post-industrial journalism: everything changes, yet it remains the same…
May 12, 2012
Post-industrial journalism faces unprecedented challenges as traditional business models crumble and readers demand content across multiple platforms, leading to a fundamental shift in the industry.
A report published at the end of last November by three professors from Columbia University, does not exactly bring any surprising or unexpected news. However, Post Industrial Journalism: Adapting to the Present, signed by C. W. Anderson, Clay Shirky and Emily Bell, is the most well-finished report of a transitional situation in journalism that, when it ends, will not leave the slightest memory of the industry on which traditional journalism is based.
Journalism itself will not change. The proposition of journalism has never changed. Someone knows a story, thinks it would interest other people, and tells it in the most suitable way, according to their purposes (in a more elaborate, direct, aggressive, short, objective way, etc). This will never change. Journalistic narratives, like literary ones, change a lot but remain, at their root, the same. The same cannot be said of the industry as a whole. The foundations of the sector are being subverted; the business model no longer works; the cycles no longer meet the consumer, but the conveniences of the companies; the reader has gone from one or two platforms to dozens of them and their demands have been taken to the exhaustion of fragmentation.
The report compiles a series of interesting data (if you don't feel like reading the report, see here an excellent review). For example: on the date of its publication, the journalistic industry enters the 23rd consecutive quarter of revenue decline. Shirky & co. accuse the American journalistic industry of having lost quality due to the disturbance caused by the change in the scenario, although the signs were there for at least three decades. The report recalls a memo from the general director of the Washington Post in 1992, Robert Kaiser, where he warns of the inevitability of change, and Kathy Gill, author of the excellent review of the report, uncovers an even older warning, a video from 1981 that showed the unbelievable future of receiving news by computer.
The discussion, however, knows its own limitations with respect to its reach. Matthew Ingram, from GigaOm, observes that the study unfortunately "preaches in the desert and will only be read by those who already know about it, but will not get the attention of people capable of doing something". Ingram touches on a point that I often address here, which is the desperate attempt of the 'mediasaurs' to stay alive at any cost, even knowing that the Ice Age ahead is inevitable and invincible. Or, as Gill ends her review, "holding on is not enough. Either you adapt or you die".
We all know that the 'mediasaurs' will not give up. Newspaper managers who still command most of a group's revenue will not hand over the baton to a new generation saying "it's best for the company", just as TV stations will continue trying to set up digital structures as long as they do not take away current revenues or threaten their power core. The general lament is that they are trying to save journalism, but that's not it. What they are trying to save is their own power. Journalism will continue the same, but different. Just like the glam rock of David Bowie, which came wrapped in makeup. Bowie, once asked John Lennon, co-author of one of the biggest hits of Bowie's career, Fame, what he thought of glam rock. "It's the same old rock'n'roll, but with lipstick". Just like rock, journalism will continue the same, even though different.