Journalism's biggest problems are not online: They're inside

Think the Internet is the biggest threat to the journalism business?

Think again.

Traditional news organizations are stabbing themselves in the gut, making the decision to flee to online news and information sources an easier one for many readers, viewers and advertisers.

Here are just a few of current threats to the business of journalism, ones that have nothing to do with increased online competition:

  • Newsrooms that take the easy route when confronted by tough stories
  • A common example of that? Reporting on politics instead of governance (which so often leaves the public confused).
  • Long memories that reporters can be cowed by politicians’ bluster
  • Employing reporters who don’t know basic facts, such as that the minimum age for Medicare eligibility is 65.
  • Blowing more credibility by missing the biggest economic catastrophe of our generation.
  • Lazy, uninformed “he said, she said” reporting in general.

    All the threats do not emanate from the newsroom, either. Let’s not forget:

  • Piling up enough corporate debt to drown even successful local newsrooms.
  • Which was the work of clueless, disconnected corporate managers
  • Failing to listen to internal innovators, before it was too late

    Outside threats loom, too:

  • A public that’s grown so ill-informed over the years that it lacks basic understanding about its world

    Like a drunk who won’t admit he’s hit bottom, many in the news industry are looking for excuses. Ultimately, they all boil down to this:

    “Hey, if it weren’t for the Internet giving people other choices, we could be getting away with all these shortcuts and still be making our fat profits.”

    Businesses are making billions of dollars online. Efforts to limit competition for those dollars will be futile.

    Here’s the challenge for traditional news organizations: Can they let go of their nostalgia for a monopoly past and instead address the real internal threats that are keeping the industry from developing the sharp, clear, accurate and consistently helpful reporting that it will need to distinguish itself from its online competition? If not, those news organizations will find it harder and harder to keep their current readers and advertisers, much less to win back those who have left them already.

  • About Robert Niles

    Robert Niles is the former editor of OJR, and no longer associated with the site. You may find him now at


    1. says:

      Im afraid youre absolutely right about this.

      on the large scale most people in almost if not every nation and area do not get the information they need to make fact based decisions.

      We have to rely on stupid ineficcient systems with microsystems of witch one you are giving a precise picture of this time.

      I noticed this too much as early as 16 years old.
      Thats when I had a good idea.

      Now im nearly 27 (einstein was 26 when he published his theory of relativity) 🙂

      My Idea would please you in that aspect you just explained.

      I say much better information handling by the public service, i mean industrial graphic teams working on making communication between The people and theyre nations administrations.

      That coupled with much more efficient and open infastriucture witch relied on more public voting, singular boss with live feed 27/7 exept when he/she wants to be alone.

      That is certain in my opinion that it is childish and stupid to trust another human beeing to handle the pressure and harassment of governing a bunch of crazy monekys.

      Unless he accepts that instead of the honour and money we invest for his service, the Captain of the ship (the name of that office )spaceship earth :)) must give away most of his human rights in order to make sure he stays in work atleast maybe 10 hours a day and has to be alone with his books or whatever, no net. When he comes out his main job is very simple, listen to expalation of large projects or cruicial law suggestions.

      What he sees the people can see, and he has to accept all those changes before thy take effect.

      I can explain this much better if you want, i have to be ready with an extremely interesting graphical explanation of this structure very soon.

      Atleast I see great potential to solve and reduce these phenominal issues youve pointed out there.

      Seems to me what you said, and what i see connect to it, is the fundemental problem of our time.

    2. says:

      Here’s one reason why journalism isn’t what it used to be, using superlatives like: “missing the biggest economic catastrophe of our generation,” make things a little soggy.

      Here’s another: Self-described “saviors” of our industry.

      Another: Regurgitating ideas that we’ve already heard/read.

    3. Good point made. All this will pass though. Even good things can come from bad things. There is always something to make.

    4. says:

      Yes it is true that online news reaches millions instantly while newspaper reaches the readers with the news next day.The competition is really tough.I wonder how long the newspaper industry will be able to survive in such a situation.

    5. says:

      Have you seen which is a UK blog about exactly this.

      Also for science reporting Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science articles and blog are also awesome.