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What The Future Will Look Like For Journalists

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Jim Spanfeller is president and CEO of He is also treasurer of the Online Publishers Association and chairman emeritus of the Interactive Advertising Bureau.

It is a tough time to be a professional journalist. Newspapers are downsizing or disappearing completely, magazines are failing every day and the ones surviving are getting thinner. Online, the rage is all about aggregation and consumer-generated content. But I firmly believe that in the future we will need more professional journalists than we have today and they will be as valued — or perhaps even more highly valued — than they were 10 years ago.

Will these professionals work for the same institutions that they work for now? More likely no then yes. Certainly some of our current journalistic enterprises will survive and thrive but only the ones that make the transition to a “now economy” that demands “entwined content,” or stories told in prose, video and data all at the same time. The majority of the current kings of content don’t understand these changes or perhaps they do but feel helpless to respond to them. Today consumers wants to know what is happening right now (not 20 hours ago), and they want personal insight into the events. And by personal I do not mean from the point of the view of the writer (although clearly that is part of the puzzle) but rather personal to them. What do these events mean to me? How will they affect my world?

News for news sake will continue to be commoditized, but news that is specific to the end user and filled with real-time education will be hard to come by and highly valued. This will require smart, diligent reporters who do most of their work before the event happens. In other words, they know the topic inside and out, they know who the movers and shakers around that topic are, and, more importantly, they can get those movers and shakers to respond quickly at almost anytime of day.

Stories will still develop over time and across many specific installments of reporting. But the idea of a

14 Responses to “What The Future Will Look Like For Journalists”

  1. I hope for the sake of future journalists that not all news is going to be online and blogging only. Not all students majoring in journalism are learning how to write for and on the web. If things start to head that way I hope colleges get smart and teach students a thing or two about the new media.

  2. Elaine Fry

    There will always be a requirement for professional journalists to compile and distill the bombardment of information into a logical, sensible, factual "stories." See the except from Lee Bollinger's (President of Columbia University) 2009 Commencement Address:

    …" the Internet – that is making global communication so pervasive – is simultaneously undermining the financial model of the traditional press, as we've known it. Ironically, and unfortunately, at the very moment when we want and need more serious study of and reporting on global issues, we are getting less and less of it. Universities – including Columbia – are expanding their presence internationally, but the press is pulling back – closing foreign bureaus and decreasing coverage of international news. This is in addition to an observable and regrettable regression in some of the media into triviality, popular obsessions, and intolerant and shallow opinion-mongering.

    No one should take this development lightly. As Walter Lippmann wrote about the shortcomings of the press in its coverage of the First World War, a crisis of journalism is a crisis of democracy. No one should assume that the institutions committed to a professional culture of journalism or scholarship can be replaced by thousands of individual, citizen-journalists, just as you cannot replace our great universities with multiple individual websites each offering specialized knowledge in an atomized way. Sometimes you need big, strong news organizations to challenge the vast powers of government, corporations and other large institutions."

  3. Mrigank Dhaniwala

    The views in this column generally hold true. But take the case of India, where newspaper readership is booming and print publications are spawning, despite falling ad-spends. News on the Internet is still skimming the surface of the upper and upper-middle classes, who know the English and have good broadband connections…

    Will the Indian media go the American way, where sensationalism and gloss is preferred over rock-solid research and content? (and correct me if I am wrong) Because if it does, there is going to be an even greater need for professionally trained and ethically upright journalists, who will tell good stories that nobody wants to hear.

  4. Jilted Journalists

    We are heartened to hear that journalists will still be needed. But how are we going to pay for them?
    Please see our Bastille Day blog about the blending of The Fourth Estate and "Commoners" and the waning need to "tax" advertisers so they can underwrite the cost of delivering personal news. Link is at

  5. Jim Spanfeller

    Peter – We have indeed applied most if not all of these strategies at and we have found that they work very well indeed. I can't say we have done all of the all the time but that is our goal.

    What we found as I said above is that people still want what they have always wanted. Now the bar is higher in getting it to them.
    Thanks for you question.

  6. ed dunn

    Let's go back to the nineties during daytime television. Remember the nice soap operas and oprah and donahue and even the cute People Court?

    And we saw what happened – Riki Lake, Jerry Springer, Jenny Jones, Judge Judy, Maury – all gutter tabloid productions designed for the quick provocative cheapshot to garner short-span attention.

    Not to take a jab at Jim but even he knows that the journalism is already being reduced to Jerry Springer style content and sinking deeper and deeper to the bottom of the barrel.

    Because for every upstanding 20th century journalist like Jim Spanfeller there is a Jim Cramer out there doing for the in-your-face cheap thrill reporting and analysis.

  7. Joe Fresburn

    Jim Spanfeller and his cronies at OPA are a bunch of blow-hards. This guy has produced shit and should be thrown out with the rest of the losers in the publishing industry.

    Jim, you are a loser.

  8. In the future the individual reputations of bloggers/ journalists will become of paramount importance for the audiences that they themselves have developed. The future belongs to individuals who know how to filter the information and what other bloggers/ news sources are valid.

  9. patricia

    The models will follow because the web is a platform and the same rules that applied to all other platforms also apply to it. The fact that business people can't figure out how to make money is because they are not seeing it this way.

    Great post. A lot of what is said here is true.

  10. L. McDuff

    I hear there's a song about it….

    Nice post! You can certainly discern the difference in journalistic quality regardless of format. Let's hope the business models follow.