Jay Rosen: News media can’t keep up with technology

NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen giving a guest lecture at CSU. Also, the back of a bunch of heads.

NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen giving a guest lecture at CSU. Also, the back of a bunch of heads.

NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen gave a guest lecture at Colorado State University on Monday afternoon during capstone session. Most of it was refresher because he was speaking to aspiring journalists who haven’t ventured into the professional realm yet; however, there were some good points he brought up, especially when speaking to why the news industry struggles. Advertising is a bad business, he said (arguably the worst to be in), so revenues continue to drop, but in addition, it’s because the news media is always so far behind on the latest tech trends.

Digital journalism unofficially turns 20 this year (The New York Times went online in 1996). So by using 1996 as an unofficial anniversary, that means digital journalism was already lagging three years behind the boom of the World Wide Web. Then when we finally started to get a grasp on HTML and all of the basics, Web 2.0 comes and makes everything simpler. So now we have to learn even more, and when we’re finally starting to utilize Web 2.0 as an instant-publishing tool, Facebook launches. Now we’re social experts, but the mobile boom is the new trend we’re trying to conquer. What’s next?

(Rosen only mentioned 1996/social/mobile, but the problem goes back beyond NYT launching its digital platform.)

I’m glad our newsroom at the Coloradoan is starting to tackle VR (see a collection of 360-degree videos I’ve done here) so we can at least try to stay on top of what appears could be the next big thing. That being said, one paper — or one chain (Gannett) for that matter — isn’t enough to “save” our industry from its spiral. It has to be a global initiative, finding ways to sell that content (ads or subscriptions); otherwise, we can look forward to reading more layoff posts on Romenesko.

Below are my bullet-point notes from Monday’s lecture.

  • Business model for news is broken. No one knows how to fix it.
    • Journalism’s no. 1 problem. Unsolved
    • Why?
      • In the past, media owned distribution. Not anymore. Internet owns it. “Publishing used to be an industry. Now it’s a button.” (Click!).
      • Users/readers prefer convenience of digital media. Media is hopeless to stop that.
      • Users are now in charge.
      • Barriers to entry have fallen. It’s much easier to start in this business. You can become a publisher overnight by starting your own site. Now the system is being flooded with cheap content. Now very hard to stand out.
      • Technology industry is better at adapting to these changes than the news industry. Tech industry is eating the media’s lunch. Why the new news powers are Facebook, Google.
      • Advertising business is falling apart. Value/revenue of ads are falling. “Advertising is a crappy business. Digital advertising is the crappiest of all.”
      • Advertisers can be their own publishers and create their own sites. They don’t need the news media.
      • “50 percent of my advertising budget is wasted, but no one can tell me which 50 percent.” – Wannamaker. Now Google/Facebook target ads to just the people advertisers want to reach.
      • Only so much time in the day. People producing news are competing with everything else someone might be doing at a certain time of day.
    • Why is the problem still unsolved when everyone knows it?
      • Well, it’s a hard problem. And the problem keeps changing.
      • News media was just starting to grasp digital when social media came and changed everything. When news media grasped social, then mobile took over. New media is always lagging behind.
      • Newspaper publishers used to be attracted to the industry. It was easy to succeed. It was stable. Old publishers weren’t creative. They were lazy, and because you could be “brain dead” and turn a profit in journalism, publishers in the past gravitated to journalism.
    • New business models for news (ALL COMPROMISE JOURNALISM!):
      • Get traffic with clickable content, track people, then target ads (simplest model)
      • Viral content that sells native advertising (Buzzfeed)
      • Just charge users for the content. Difficult, because your content MUST be unique. COMPLETELY original. Plus, there’s so much free news out there, it’s hard to make people pay.
      • News as an advertisement. i.e.: Selling expensive financial info. (Bloomberg)
      • Convert your power as a news brand.
      • E-commerce.
      • Specialize and sell your expertise.
      • Non-profit model. You’re so good, people will donate to you.
    • So what do you do if you want a future in this industry?
      • Follow the industry closely. Be an expert on media.
      • Understand the business model with the place you want to work.
        • Example: What WAS the business of local TV news (or newspaper), what’s undermining it now, and what’s making the good stations succeed?
      • Find a beat and own it.
      • Have digital journalism skills you’re a master in (spreadsheets, FOIA, mobile).
      • Learn how to listen to the users (metrics) without surrendering to what they’re telling you.
      • You have to be well informed. Be a newshound.
      • Pay attention to new job titles/categories that never existed before. New jobs, no one is truly qualified for because the job never existed in the past (like an audience analyst, multimedia producer).
      • Get yourself into a journalistic situation. Any situation in which people who depend greatly on information are depending on you.