Forget doom, journalism's future is bright

Maybe the future isn’t so bad for journalism, after all. There is hope, mostly because so many young journalists see a bright future for journalism.

It’s the end of the fall semester and as I take a breath and take stock of the past 16 weeks I am optimistic. As a professor in the Schieffer School of Journalism at TCU, I have finished classes and turned in grades and feel pretty good, not about the job I’ve done as much as the excitement I found in 18 students.

The 18 made up an honors section of our Introduction to Journalism class, the first time in more than a decade we’ve taught an honors class in our program. I’m glad we did, and that I had the opportunity to teach the class.

What I found with these high school high-achievers in their first semester of college is that they’re excited about journalism and recognize the opportunities ahead.

One of the keys I try to convey to my students is that journalism isn’t dying, even if newspapers in the way we’ve always known them may be.

We don’t have a consumption problem for news. We have a monetization problem.

And, as it turns out, the 18-, now 19-, year-olds may have it figured out more than the rest of us.

One thing they certainly don’t see is a future for paywalls, except for very specialized content. They expect news to be free. It’s what they know.

They’ve always relied on news online, on-demand, wireless and in non-traditional ways.

When I ask where they get their news from the answer is mostly Facebook and Twitter and their favorite news apps.

They’re not tied to the past. They’ve grown up in a world where change happens fast, where technology is evolving. They remember when MySpace came… and went.

So while they may not had previously heard of Spot.Us, the West Seattle Blog or ProPublica they get that journalism is changing. Those models aren’t so crazy. They’re open to new ideas.

When I told them they were required to start their own website and professional social media accounts, it wasn’t such a distant concept. In just a few minutes they could become their own news outlet.

When I gave then an entrepreneurial assignment to develop an idea for a journalistic product or service, they began to see how they could combine their passions (fashion, politics, food and sports among them) with journalism and their own business.

They’re open to all of this.

It’s not that they don’t want to work at CBS News or The New York Times, they just get that there is a lot more to journalism now.

Faced with this timeline I prepared that shows how reporter used to work vs. now, they’re not dissuaded.

Picture 3

They get that the job has changed and they’re fine with it. In fact, they’re just as driven as any young journalists have ever been.

Like many of their contemporaries, they have a strong sense of a social mission. They want to report on the issues that matter. They’re idealistic. I love it.

One student told me how important it was for her to work on a story about Iraq War veterans because her father had served in Vietnam.

Others are frustrated that more people their age aren’t engaged in politics and want to help produce journalism that is relevant about the government and politics for young people.

They know our democracy cannot survive without vibrant journalism and they want to fuel the reinvention.

Let’s not mess it up before they get to do that.

Don't say Twitter or Facebook on French TV, radio

In just about every newscast it has become routine to hear anchors and reporters promote their Facebook and Twitter accounts.

It’s a way for these news organizations to extend their reach and build their brand across media.

Well, in France it’s no longer legal for broadcasters to promote their social media pages.

The Daily Mail quotes a spokeswoman for France’s television regulatory agency, Christine Kelly, saying preference shouldn’t be given to the two popular social media sites.

“Why give preference to Facebook, which is worth billions of dollars, when there are many other social networks that are struggling for recognition?” she asked, according to Mail Online.

“This would be a distortion of competition. If we allow Facebook and Twitter to be cited on air, it’s opening a Pandora’s Box — other social networks will complain to us saying, ‘why not us?’”

Journalists will still be allowed to more generally promote their social media accounts, but not specific sites (insert wink from anchor here).

If the name of a social media service is integral to telling a news story then broadcasters can utter the banded Facebook or Twitter.

The removal of promoting these sites is an interpretation of a 1992 law that sought to limit thinly veiled advertising (the link is in French, so if you’re like me it’s not going to help much. However, if you do read French please let us know your interpretation).

Of course, this isn’t product placement. Using social media is an attempt by these journalists to connect to their audiences and spread news and information.

Maybe I’m just an ethnocentric American who thinks the viewers and listeners can decide if their trusted news source promoting Twitter or Facebook is really some evil plot to undermine competition or just a way to reach people where they are and in a way convenient for them.

The paywall debate: The challenge of charging

The publisher of The New York Times, in a letter to readers, detailed the specifics of their latest paywall attempt Thursday.

The two main points:
1. Users can view up to 20 stories (including video, slideshows and other multimedia content) a month.
2. Stories you are linked to from blogs, social networking sites and the like will not count against the 20 story limit.

The Times is testing this approach on Canadian users now and it will expand to U.S. and the rest of global readers March 28.

“It’s an important step that we hope you will see as an investment in The Times,” wrote Publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr., “one that will strengthen our ability to provide high-quality journalism to readers around the world and on any platform.”

From a business standpoint he may be right. Newspapers’ current model isn’t working and they have to pay for all that great journalism.

Now for the BUT.

The Times attempted something similar to this and failed with TimesSelect, returning columnist content to free in 2007 after two years of behind a paywall.

This is what then-Times executive Vivian Schiller (we won’t get into what’s happened to her since) was quoted by Reuters as saying of the decision to end TimesSelect: “We now believe by opening up all our content and unleashing what will be millions and millions of new documents, combined with phenomenal growth, that that will create a revenue stream that will more than exceed the subscription revenue.”

So the logic then was to increase potential ad revenue by increasing the potential audience. Now it’s to do the opposite. It’s been pretty well established that putting up a paywall decreases views and thus decreases advertising revenue.

Then there is the other issue that so often gets overlooked: The is hardly the only source for news. Many other sites, particularly those run by television networks have no incentive to charge for content. They never have. Savvy news consumers can simply go to or or a myriad of other sites to get essentially the same news.

Content is so widely available that, except for very specific stories, users don’t need The New York Times as much as The New York Times needs the audience for advertising. But legacy media, particularly media organizations with a proud history, have a hard time recognizing that.

That is a long way around to make my connection to television news and the challenge of paywalls.

For all of the other newspapers in cities across the country that have three, four or five television stations or more producing news and running their own websites, the news of the day is readily available for free. All a paywall will do is push people to other sources. No one likes to pay for something they can get for free someplace else.

Back to the Times, the decision to allow all users to read stories they are linked to makes their entire paywall moot, anyways.

If I really want to read a particular Times story and don’t want to pay, all I’d have to do is google the headline and find it linked from somewhere else and get it that way. That would just take a few seconds and not cost $15-$35 a month like the Times.