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A Path Towards Saving Journalism

Question: How will old media journalists be able to adapt to new media realities?

Matthew Bishop: One of the many ironies in journalism at the moment is that the Internet has made it much easier to be a very good journalist, a very effective journalist. If you can master multimedia, if you know how to search information out, if you know how to use the modern techniques like Twitter to communicate with your readers, you can actually be a much better journalist than was every possible in the past. And so, there is this productivity revolution going on in journalism at the same time as the traditional journalism industry is in a state of panic, I think largely because it turned out that there was massive excess supply of news reporting that was essentially duplicating each other. And so there has to be a huge decline in some of that basic commodity journalism, at the same time, there’s a search for those who have mastered the new form of journalism to figure out what the business model is. How you are going to make a living if you are not doing it through the traditional roots. I am pretty confident that there will be business models that are very successful that come out of this current turmoil. And that you will see journalism being for the best journalists, a fantastic career as has always been, but even more fantastic because you will be operating on a global scale rather than just a national scale.

And at the same time, this transition from the old model to the new model, I think, is a worrying time for society because the press does play an important role in keeping the public informed and holding those who are powerful in society to account, and I think there is a real danger that investigative reporting and reporting on Congress and some local reporting on the powerful people in the communities is going to suffer in the short run. And it’s been again interesting that philanthrocapitalists have started looking at this area as one where they can make a real difference. One organization, for example, Pro Publica has been set up, which is various philanthropists fearing investigative journalism would be squeezed because investigative journalism is one of the most expensive forms of journalism, and yet it’s got a very unpredictable success rate in terms of stories being produced at the end. So it is a natural thing for the old media organizations as they face growing pressure on their revenues, that’s going to be the first thing that is going to get cut. And so, they’ve started an organization that is endowed to actually do investigative journalism. And I think those philanthropy responses, and there are a whole series of things coming on in journalism at the moment, at going to help us through that difficult transition period. And I think this has to be – this is the information age and if journalism can’t thrive in the information age, something is really odd.

Recorded on:  September 24, 2009

Matthew Bishop of The Economist explains how old journalists are staking a claim in the new media world with the help of philanthrocapitalists.

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