Journalism Must Shed Paper Cocoon

Kenneth Dwain Harrelson [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Kenneth Dwain Harrelson [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
For over six years I have followed the newspaper industry’s struggle to maintain a sustainable financial foundation for journalism. From misunderstanding the nature of social media and disregarding consumer trends to highlighting Google’s Eric Schmidt offering to “help newspapers” in 2009 I have been an consistent advocate for the newspaper industry’s role in good journalism.

In January 2012 I first described “An Innovative Opportunity for Journalism” in an open letter suggesting that the Tampa Bay Times and the Poynter Institute directly engage Google and take Schmidt to task on his offer.

In 2013 I repeated my appeal but asking instead “Will the Tampa Bay Times Help Google?” in reaction to the purchase of The Washington Post by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. The acquisition meant “Google would need to make a move to prepare for whatever Bezos had planned”  and that the “Tampa Bay Times and Poynter were still in the perfect position to approach Google and offer their help.”

Still today, no other newspaper and journalism school have this opportunity.

In early 2014 I saw a “New Opportunity for Poynter [and the] Times” with Poynter president Tim Franklin, who I hoped would “make the connection to Schmidt that [CEO Paul] Tash and former Poynter president Karen Dunlap [had] yet to make.”

Since last September the news has only gotten worse, with the Times escaping it’s naming rights contract with the Amalie Arena immediately followed by cuts to staff pay and hints at layoffs. This year the Times has listed it’s headquarters for sale to pay debt and this month had liens places on it’s properties.

Nearly six years ago Schmidt described the future in his letter, “It’s the year 2015. The compact device in my hand delivers me the world, one news story at a time. …the device knows who I am, what I like, and what I have already read. So while I get all the news and comment, I also see stories tailored for my interests.”

Today, despite Google’s attempts, it is Facebook and not Google Plus that provides the experience Schmidt describes. The missteps of newspapers like the Times are irreversible. The world of journalism remains a wild frontier where blogs grow and mature while newspapers shrink.

Inaction will not halt change. Diligence provides opportunity.

While the Times has suffered losses in staff and revenue it has remained diligent in it’s support of in-depth research and reporting. The Times continues to produce award winning journalism that is the foundation of a strong society. The depth of this reporting cannot be duplicated by blogs and new media business models.

However, this safe harbor is at risk if Poynter and the Times do not act. Google remains at a disadvantage to the combined threat posed by Amazon and The Washington Post. The opportunity still exists for Poynter, the Times, and Google to lead journalism into the future.

It is time to shed the paper cocoon that is suffocating journalism’s evolution.



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