Joining the online news bandwagon

Howard Kurtz, Peter Goodman, Jim VandeHei, and Richard Johnson are just a few of the many reporters voluntarily exiting the legacy media to join online news ventures.

While many are scratching their heads wondering why these and other talented reporters are leaving the perceived luxurious lifestyle of the traditional media, those who work in the journalism industry have come to realize that online news ventures provide great opportunity to grow as a reporter and work on the cutting edge of journalism. In fact, increasingly, straight-shooting journalists are leaving the newsroom and joining online journalism organizations that provide journalists the opportunity to investigate the news and reemerge as the beat reporters from yesteryear.

The mass exodus from the traditional media comes at a time when the newspaper industry is struggling. Figures released this week by the Audit Bureau of Circulations show average daily circulation fell 5 percent in the April-September period, compared with the same period a year earlier. A March 2010 report from the Pew Research Center’s annual Project for Excellence in Journalism showed that 2009 was a devastating year for the traditional news media. Among Pew’s findings were that newspapers currently spend $1.6 billion less annually on reporting and editing than they did ten years ago and over the last three years 15,000 full-time reporting and editing jobs were lost.

And while newspaper circulations and ad revenues are plummeting, a June 2010 Pew Report found that roughly a third (34%) of the public say they went online for news and 44% of Americans say they got news through one or more internet or mobile digital source. Both of these statistics are considerably higher than those who said they turned to their local newspaper for their news coverage.

However, the growth in popularity of online news is only one of the many reasons why reporters are leaving traditional media outlets for an online news project.

At many of the legacy media outlets, reporters feel quite limited due to orders coming from the top down, with very little collaboration. The immeasurable levels of bureaucracy that a reporter endures at a tradition media operation to get his or her idea heard were not only a burden but deterred creativity. Online journalism, particularly in a small organization, means very little bureaucracy and more innovation. It means being able to collaborate and communicate with everyone in the organization. And that leads to more ideas for stories and better journalism.

Reporters also found that not being bound by the traditional expectation of a large journalism institution such as the Washington Post, Houston Chronicle or San Francisco Chronicle had huge advantages. If those newspapers “don’t cover” something — such as every city council meeting — well, the reporters there will likely be criticized by the public. In the case of many new online news ventures, the public has no expectations, which allows the reporters to focus on long- and short-term investigations and enterprise journalism.

There is also a lack of a “Well, we’ve always done it this way” kind of attitude at online journalism organization. Because they are new, they are nimble and are more willing to try new ideas. This risk-taking approach is no longer apparent in traditional newsrooms around the nation that are being forced to cut back due to financial uncertainties.

As long as online news organizations continue to thrive and produce quality and accurate news coverage, more mainstream journalists are going to join the bandwagon. Soon it will no longer be a headline when a reporter leaves the Wall Street Journal is start up a news organization online. And as more and more online news ventures materialize, the journalism industry will get stronger and news consumers will have additional chances to see how powerful online journalism truly is.

Jason Stverak is the President of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, which is dedicated to providing investigative reporters and non-profit organizations at the state and local level with training, expertise, and technical support. If you are a reporter or a citizen journalist and are interested in getting involved in non-profit journalism, please email [email protected]

About Jason Stverak

Jason Stverak is President of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, a leading journalism non-profit organization. The Franklin Center is dedicated to providing reporters, citizens and non-profit organizations at the state and local level with training, expertise and technical support.