Sunday, November 27, 2011

Claire Suddath (& SJ) on the Future of Journalism

Post contributed by Summer Johnson -

Claire Suddath, a Time Magazine online and print writer, wrote an article in October 2011 that discusses how Time and other major news sources are dealing with the digital age. Suddath claims that journalists are scared because, “Basically, we're like the music industry, except none of us can sing.” Suddath reported that many journalists, from all forms of media, attended the Chicago Ideas Week panel on news in a digital age to figure out what will happen to the future of journalism.
  The Chicago Ideas Week panel suggested that old media is incapable of immediacy in news, being overshadowed in that regard by social networking sites like Twitter. For example, a journalist at the panel claimed he knew of Steve Job’s death a few minutes after it happened because the information spread over Twitter so quickly, yet the television news medium came out with the “breaking” story the next day.
  The panel further discussed that more media platforms are doing more journalism with fewer people, and it’s hard to run a business when it yields no revenue. Time’s Managing Editor and host of the Chicago Ideas Week panel, Rick Stengal, raised another issue. Stengal acknowledged that "there is more information available to more people than ever before. We just haven't figured out how to charge for it yet."
  I have a proposal that may fix this problem in regards to online news.
  The problem began when online news sites spoiled readers by posting news for free on their websites.
  I propose news websites begin charging an online membership fee. I believe they should provide headlines and the “short story” (by short story, I mean the sentence or two below the headline” to viewers for free, but only subscribers/members would be able to read the entire story.
  I think this will work because, as the panel discussed in Suddath’s article, all media platforms have some competition with social networking sites in immediacy; however, social networking sites are unable to provide the entire story. And breaking stories deserve more information than social networking sites’ few worded sentences.
  There are some problems with this idea, but I believe following my proposal would be the lesser of two evils: either charge the audience and risk losing a few readers, or continue making no money. The first of the two would at least yield some revenue where the latter continues making nothing.
  News websites have been offering information for free for so long, charging for information may turn away customers. My theory on this is if consumers pay for news when they buy newspapers, magazines, or cable, why shouldn’t they pay for it online? News is a much sought after commodity, and should be paid for regardless of the form of media.
  The tricky part would be charging for information via online news websites; it must be a group effort. All news websites from all platforms must pull together, and begin charging for information at competitive rates at relatively the same time.
  Instead of online news networks crying about losing money, they should get up and do something about it. The longer they wait, the more money they will lose, and the less job security we all will have.

Check out Suddath’s original article from Time’s online website


  1. Two issues with this idea -
    First, getting everyone to not only charge, but charge the same, in a competitive environment is extremely difficult - there would be a significant advantage to whomever didn't go along.
    Second, if you did get everyone to agree and go along, you've now got a case of restraint of trade and competition, and you run afoul of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act.
    So, not likely to happen unless you want the government to step in and do it. And that would raise a whole new set of problems and issues.

  2. While I think charging for content isn't a bad idea, I don't necessarily think it can work. For instance, with the evolution of 'back pack journalist,' any individual can break a story and simply post in on a blog. The point being, if one news outlet is charging, there will always be another that is not charging.
    One option, however, might be found if they were to follow the entertainment model sports often has. Breaking news stories are generally free while more in depth aspects of an given sport or event require a membership i.e. recruiting. People will only pay for information they can't find anywhere else for free. There is just too much access to information for that to happen on a large scale in today's industry.