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Summary:

There are plenty of reasons for pessimism about the state of the media and journalism, including repeated layoffs, bankruptcies and so on. But there are also many reasons to be optimistic about the current environment.

If you’re convinced this is the worst possible time to be a journalist, there’s plenty of evidence to support you: just this week, there have been cutbacks at the New York Post and news of cuts at the venerable Village Voice, not to mention periodic bankruptcies and printing-press shutdowns. But if you believe this is the best time to be in media, there’s plenty of evidence to support that as well, as Ann Friedman outlined in a recent piece for the Columbia Journalism Review.

Friedman is no stranger to the vicissitudes of modern media — she was laid off as the editor of GOOD magazine last year, after the publication decided to pivot and become a kind of social network for user-generated content. But in her CJR piece, she describes how on a recent speaking tour she grew frustrated with the numbers of people complaining about a lack of jobs, a lack of money and the rise of short-attention-span media like Twitter:

“Again and again, I found myself playing the role of cheerleader, trying to convince tired and broke journalists to get excited about the future of media.”

There is far more good than bad

Newspaper fortune teller; newspapers' future; newspapers' fate; fate of newspapers

As the CJR columnist acknowledges, it can be hard to motivate journalists — or anyone in the field of media — when reports from research outfits like the Pew Center lay out in bald detail how the business model for much of what we think of as the mainstream media is rapidly disintegrating, with nothing obvious to take its place, and when the number of journalists employed in newsrooms is lower than it has been at any time since the 1950s.

But Friedman argues — I think fairly persuasively — that there are far more benefits available to journalists now than there have ever been, if they choose to see and make use of them. Among other things, she lists:

Reporters have more access to sources: Thanks to the web, social media and other tools, “it’s never been easier to find and reach out to anyone.” This is unequivocally true, especially with the number of potential sources who have their own blogs, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, etc.

Consumers have access to more media: Your job may have been more secure in the past, Friedman says, but now if you have something to say you have the ability to reach a much larger group of readers, and they have much more choice (this is also one argument against paywalls, she says).

Journalists get more engagement: Reporters used to work for years with little or no response from or engagement with readers (which some no doubt preferred), but now you get more feedback than you could ever want. Says Friedman: “I know a lot of journalists hate this, but it’s a good thing.”

Chaos promotes creativity: When traditional paths to professional success are closed, Friedman argues, “those of us who love journalism so much we’d never give up are forced to redefine success – and our methods of seeking it.” And there are more routes to success than ever before.

Disruption also produces opportunity

change

To some, this may all have a certain Pollyanna-ish feel to it, but I think Friedman is right — and in many ways she is saying something similar to what Matt Yglesias at Slate argued recently, when he responded to the Pew Center report and said that in his view news consumers were better off than they had ever been (although many disagreed). Jay Rosen made a similar case for why the internet is good for journalism in a debate hosted by the Economist in 2011.

Yes, much of the traditional media business is in turmoil, and the road to profitability — or even survival, for some — is far from clear. And it’s easy to look at the chaos of social media and “citizen journalism” during something like the Boston bombings or Hurricane Sandy and assume that we are much worse off, both as journalists and as news consumers (an argument I have tried to counter). And there is no question that many bad things come with the good.

But as Friedman argues, that same chaotic environment is what produces new things, many of which may grow to become powerful and positive tools for journalism — in some cases better than the ones we have. It’s easy to succumb to the gloom, but the reality is that while disruption of the kind the media world is experiencing creates great upheaval, it also creates great opportunity.

Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user George Kelly and Shutterstock / Feng Yu

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  1. I would say it’s the worst of times and not because of the internet ,for the most part , but because so very few have any kind of ethics. The decline is very obvious especially for TV.
    This is the real problem of the times not the death of old media,that’s only interesting for the old media and nobody really cares besides them.

  2. Robert Clark Thursday, May 9, 2013

    It’s the best of times for journalism but the worst of times for journalists. Now that Information is no longer scarce, the media economy has collapsed, taking with it a large number of jobs. That’s no different to other industries disrupted by the internet – travel agents, bookshops, dating agencies, telcos, etc. The news business is finding and will find new business models but they’re just not going to be anywhere near as large in economic terms.

    For those journalists left, the abundance of information and tools to get at it as well as to report it mean it s a great time to be in the business.

  3. In evolution, only times of great stress produce a more capable population – because only when the less capable die off, are the more capable becoming the majority.

    So in a sense, the disruption of journalism could mean that all the lazy copy-pasters and liars-for-hire will die off, while those who truly care about journalism will be left to see their influence grow over time.

  4. Ashley Norris Friday, May 10, 2013

    Not one mention though of how journalists might make money. If we are not carefulm then the nexrt generation of journalists will all come from wealthy families as no one else will be able to wait for those opportunities to arise

  5. Timely and important article. There is far too much negativity about the state of journalism. The rules of the game are being rewritten at present. It is the Wild West in journalism, with the business model being turned upside down. The great thing about this is those who are opportunistic and lucky can win big. However, many talented people, will find their skills have been side-lined. When technological disruption comes, things are messy, but it also provides huge opportunity for change and makes it easier for individuals to make a mark.

  6. Laurie Wiegler Saturday, May 11, 2013

    The bottom line is everyone needs to put food on the table.

    While I was thrilled to see a flood of new contacts on Linkedin yesterday, I would be more thrilled to sell another story for at least $1,000. That has not happened in several months as the economy has shed journalists like my Persian cat sheds hairs.

    Meanwhile, journalists competing for jobs or assignments are growing increasingly competitive. With the playing field uneven, employers seem to be hiring the youngest, most digitally-savvy and in many cases attractive talent they can find. I have nothing against the young, the talented and the adorable, but I prefer my journalists seasoned, gritty, greying and sage.

    As infotainment rules the television airwaves more and more, let’s keep the pressure on publishers to hire based on smarts and experience.

    Laurie Wiegler
    http://www.lauriewiegler.com

  7. Peter Erikson Saturday, May 11, 2013

    It’s easy to sit in a glass throne and expound on all the great things journalism supposedly has to offer. Try the other chair, the one in which the unemployed journalist sits. I see very little positive in the future, though I guess if you love celebrity and sports news, there’s plenty there. But no real news. It’s not, “What can we investigate today?” but, “Who can we cut today?” And Amy Friedman has no right to talk about “tired” journalists. They’re fired up and ready to go — but they need a job first.

  8. BT Hathaway Sunday, May 12, 2013

    Several generations of journalists grew up in large scale media conglomerates, and just as importantly, those media conglomerates chose and groomed people who were well suited to conglomerate journalism.

    Most of these folks will find it at best seriously disorienting to have to work in a different operational construct, and many of them will be ill suited to survive in the new landscape.

    Journalism will need to groom new workers for a different age along with pioneering new business models.

  9. Ed Hamilton Sunday, May 19, 2013

    These simple USA histories are very instructive, but seldom shown to the people:
    http://patrick.net/forum/?p=1223928
    Who are more to blame — economists or journalists?

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