Columbia Journalism Review
[Commentary] Two decades have passed since newspapers launched websites, and yet here we are. Big city papers have gone under, thousands of journalists have lost their jobs, and the idea that digital news will eventually become a decent business feels like a rumor.
The reality is this: No app, no streamlined website, no “vertical integration,” no social network, no algorithm, no Apple, no Apple Newsstand, no paywall, no soft paywall, no targeted ad, no mobile-first strategy has come close to matching the success of print in revenue or readership. And the most crucial assumption publishers have made about readers, particularly millennials—that they prefer the immediacy of digital—now seems questionable, too.
[Michael Rosenwald is a reporter at the Washington Post. ]
When CBS Chairman Les Moonves said that the Donald Trump phenomenon “may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS,” he likely didn’t imagine his comment would apply to the entire news industry come December. While many in the media have expressed concerns over the impact a Trump Administration could have on press freedoms, the president-elect’s influence already is boosting news organizations’ bottom lines.
The New York Times said it signed up 10,000 new subscribers per day several times since the election, and the past few weeks recorded a 10-fold increase in new subscriptions over the same period last year. “Often after an election you expect a lull,” Times president and CEO Mark Thompson said recently. “We’re not seeing that, we’re seeing a surge.”
[Commentary] Journalists in the US are never off-limits for criticism. But what we’re seeing right now goes too far. We must fight back. We must fight a president-elect who obsessively attacks the press on Twitter, fight death threats toward reporters and editors, fight unrelenting anti semitism on social media, fight the resurrection of the Nazi-Germany term “Lugenpresse.” It’s an affront to our national heritage. And if the American people don’t remember or understand this, we need to remind them. Often.
So as we prepare to embark on a Donald Trump presidency, I offer a mini manifesto to share with press-hating friends, family, co-workers, and strangers. You can call yourself many things while you foment hatred toward reporters, but “all-American” is not one of them. Journalism is our original—and enduring—national anthem.
[Philip Eil is a freelance journalist based in Providence (RI)]
[Commentary] You've probably heard that news organizations such as AP, Reuters, and many others are now turning out thousands of automated stories a month. It’s a dramatic development, but today’s story-writing bots are little more than Mad Libs, filling out stock phrases with numbers from earnings reports or box scores. And there’s good reason to believe that fully automated journalism is going to be very limited for a long time. At the same time, quietly and without the fanfare of their robot cousins, the cyborgs are coming to journalism. And they’re going to win, because they can do things that neither people nor programs can do alone.
[Jonathan Stray leads the Overview Project for the Associated Press]
[Commentary] Without an informed and independent lens on the work of large technology companies, news organizations could easily surrender to the idea that they no longer belong in the business of shaping their own formats and production tools. But independent and creative advocacy for its own technologies is one of the most powerful ways journalism can retain its relevance.
It was once the case that more technology-focused resources potentially meant fewer reporters in the newsroom. That choice can now be seen for what it always was: a false bargain. As reporting and technology converge, it is not a matter of journalists learning code, but of journalism becoming code.
[Emily Bell is Director at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia Journalism School.]
[Commentary] The 2016 Presidential election took a heavy toll on the vast army of journalists assigned to cover it, grinding down shoe leather, fingertips, and nerve-endings in equal measure. But for one reporter, Daniel Dale of the Toronto Star, the race for the White House was singularly burdensome, turning him into a night owl. So what happened to all this solid work, why did it appear to go up in a puff of smoke on election night?
There is a separate and febrile debate over whether or not opinion polls were in part to blame for giving the impression that the White House was in the bag for Hillary Clinton, but many other theories are circulating. One prevalent idea is that the media did its job but the public “just did not care.”The New York Times political reporter Jonathan Martin offers an opposite conclusion: that the coverage did hit home with voters, as reflected in Donald Trump’s historically bad popularity ratings. To which it might be added that Hillary Clinton is still winning in the popular vote.
[Ed Pilkington is chief reporter of the Guardian in the US]
It is an odd paradox in a small community: people shop with their local TV reporters and send their kids to school with the children of the editors of their hometown newspaper. They know their local journalists not simply as a byline but as the reporter who sits in the fourth row from the front on the right side of the church every Sunday. They don’t always see them as “the media.” The media are CNN and The New York Times and the Huffington Post. The media that deserves to be put in pens, like cattle, as Tom Matthews, editor of the Wayne County Press wrote in a recent column.
In the coming months, local journalists, like their national counterparts, are sure to face more criticism as Trump prepares to take office. There are two things at play: one is what role journalists will have under a president who has been outwardly hostile of the watchdogs of government, and the other is to what extent people will be willing to listen if the journalism doesn’t confirm previously held beliefs. In other words, how will any journalist deliver credible news under a model in which people doesn’t necessarily want information but rather something else?
[Commentary] We, as journalists, had better take extra care these days to strike the right balance between reacting and overreacting if we don’t want to be used as pawns in someone else’s strategy. Sometimes it seems that all the press wants is for President-elect Donald Trump to agree not to set up concentration camps—even as he confers with Republican leaders on how to completely dismantle what’s left of America’s public spaces, public institutions, and protections for the poor and the vulnerable. We will have our civil liberties, but nothing else.
[Lee Siegel is the author of five books and the recipient of a National Magazine Award for Reviews and Criticism.]
WikiLeaks used to be the press’s only source for anonymously submitted online document dumps. Since then, the press has developed its own digital capabilities and a comfort with leaked material—and WikiLeaks has strayed from editorial curation and toward publishing unedited archives.
Before the election, the conversation around Wikileaks focused on the question of whether or not the press should report on the Podesta e-mails, since they are so targeted, uncurated, and not even clearly newsworthy. The verdict, rightly, was that the press should report on the leaks: Glenn Greenwald argues in The Intercept, and Trevor Timm in The Guardian, that it is the journalist’s job to take what was leaked, decide what is newsworthy, and report on it. The role of the press is not only to report the leaks, but to interrogate the information and assess its newsworthiness. But now, after the election, there is another layer of transparency that is the press’s job to add: transparency on WikiLeaks itself.
[Commentary] How can media companies do professional journalism that reaches audiences on the major platforms? And how can the giant platforms make that professional journalism worth their while?
I’m glad that the 2016 election has prompted people to buy new subscriptions to paywalled legacy publications. But that, by definition, is a way to stay out of the trenches, to keep clean hands in the new media wars. Instead, legacy outlets and new ones alike could let important coverage that is native to this new space out from behind paywalls. Editors could treat the information ecosystem as a frontline beat. And the platforms need to find a way to support the native journalism that is the only antidote to the poison in their veins.
[Ben Smith is the Editor in Chief of BuzzFeed.]