An Innovative Opportunity for Journalism: An Open Letter to the Poynter Institute and Tampa Bay Times

An Innovative Opportunity for Journalism

An Open Letter to the Poynter Institute and Tampa Bay Times

Quote by journalist Walter Lippmann – Found hanging on a wall at the Poynter Institute

Since taking a handful of journalism and media classes in college, I have had a respect for, and interest in journalism and the art of reporting the news. The in-depth written story that a journalist delivers is unique in value to the protection of our rights as a free people.

I have blogged mostly critical reviews of the newspaper industry with the exception of my excitement at The Tampa Bay Times re-branding and, in my opinion, winning the newspaper war of west central Florida.

My writings in 2009 were focused on what the industry was doing wrong by not being more strategic in embracing technology. My grounds for the examples I laid out were rooted in comments by Eric Schmidt, then CEO of Google to the Newspaper Association of America that commended the industry for jumping online quickly but critiqued that there had been no second act.

During the open question portion of the event, Tampa Bay Times editor and CEO Paul Tash asked questions that were mostly focused on intellectual property rights. Schmidt optimistically answered that the solution would be found with technology and by asking what users want.

Journalism Today

Two weeks ago, I visited The Poynter Institute and Tech Data with Leadership Tampa Bay for panel discussions on media and technology. The discussions that related to journalism and the news industry were no more positive than they were in 2009 and with good reason. The industry continues to focus on what users are doing wrong and intellectual property rights; with the best option being explored is to copy the iTunes model and selling individual stories.

There is a fundamental difference between music and journalism that makes the same model unworkable for most news.

Music is an art that is appreciated differently by everyone. The new model allows any musician to promote and sell their music, and it allows users to sample more artists and only buy the albums they really enjoy. They make suggestions to friends because they want to see the music affect others the way it affects them.

The news industry is correct at stressing the value of journalism and the importance of keeping its standards high. However, the industry is overlooking a fact stated by journalist Walter Lippmann that I read on a wall while at Poynter.

“A free press is not only a right, and not only a privilege, but an organic necessity in a great society.”

The Internet has finally made a free press truly organic. Today, the media industry is responsible for the protection of journalism and I believe offers the brightest future for that protection. However, unless technology is embraced fully, the industry will eventually default on that responsibility.

The Future

Tampa Bay is uniquely positioned to nurture the development of whatever new model carries journalism forward.

The Tampa Bay Times, owned by The Poynter Institute, was able to take a long term view of the newspaper war, allowing them to be slow and methodic when considering how to grow readership and overtake their competitor.

The Times now faces an even greater challenge – furthering Poynter’s mission to teach and inspire journalists carried forward from Nelson Poynter’s belief in the value of independent journalism in the public interest.

The Tampa Bay Times and Poynter, being able to take a long term view of delivering quality journalism, are in a unique position to truly innovate by inviting Google directly to the table.

In the 2009 letter, How Google Can Help Newspapers, Eric Schmidt states, “…I believe it also requires a change of tone in the debate, a recognition that we all have to work together to fulfill the promise of journalism in the digital age.”

Poynter’s long-term vision combined with Google’s cash and technology resources would allow The Tampa Bay Times to develop a business model that would be sustainable and replicable in other markets by news organizations that are profit focused and unable to take large financial risks.

I believe that right now Poynter and the Tampa Bay Times can seize an opportunity to truly change the tone of the debate by working with Google to bring journalism into the digital age.


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