Everyone agrees that today's media--and journalism in particular--is going through a major transition. The question is, can today's traditional media-newspapers, network TV, etc--make the leap to the new world? More specifically, can individual journalists make the leap?
The jury is still out but many people are skeptical about the future of this business. Who can blame them with print publications fading so fast--Business 2.0 was the last to bite the dust with their October edition. And as you can see from this debate ("Losing the Journalistic Security Blanket") in the Media Shift blog, some skeptics don't even think journalists will be able to handle comments.
That argument seems logical: Journalists are sheltered and stuck in their own worlds, accustomed to a top-down system where information only flows one way. Compared to the traditional media, the new rough and tumble world of blogging is a free-for-all. No one cares if you have a media brand behind you--the halo doesn't work in the blogosphere, where everyone has an equal voice. They'll never adjust, the argument goes.
I disagree for several reasons.
1. Journalists aren't stupid--they see today's trends and know where it's going. Yes the newsrooms may still look the same but below the surface there's a lot of energy going into adjusting to the new media world. Many reporters, including more than a dozen or so of my old BusinessWeek colleagues, are already blogging.
2. Comments create excitement, and interest in their stories. Static stories can be boring, but mix in a few comments and you have an interesting debate. While some thin skin reporters cringe at any criticism, others welcome any feedback. If nothing else, you appreciate the fact someone is reading your stories.
3. Content is king: Journalists are professionally trained to dig up interesting stories and spin them for their audiences. Content and "the story" still carry the day in the blogosphere. Some journalists may need to adjust to the style--shorter, punchier, etc--but that's relatively easy for the good ones.
4. Blogging is liberating: Magazine journalists get tired of writing for heavy-handed editors, often having to write within restrictive guidelines (newspaper reporters seem to have enormous freedom, by comparison, but they get burned out too). Blogging enables them to speak their minds more freely and use their own style. It also allows them to create valuable connections with readers.
5. They have no choice: Print publications and the style that went with them will likely be replaced the next few years by online editions. They may still exist in some form, but mainly as advertising vehicles for companies and industries that, for whatever reason, want to continue reaching these print audiences. The overwhelming majority of energy and financial resources will be pouring into online entities-- online editions, blogs and new types of forums we haven't invented yet.
The journalist will have to reinvent himself/herself, but many have had to do that in their careers anyway. When I made the switch from writing for newspapers to BusinessWeek back in the 1980s, it was a completely different style--an essay like style vs the old newspaper pyramid, and opinion columns vs straight forward "news." Making the transition from magazine (or newspaper) writing to blogging is easy, by comparison.
The bigger adjustments will be on a macro level as the media transition continues. Journalists will have to figure out a way to package and "sell" their specialized knowledge in a new world, where information will be available anytime, anywhere--where information will find you, whether through a blog or cell phone or iPod. Marketing and journalism are like oil and water--reporters hate the idea that they are no longer above the fray. But they have no choice. The glory days of the journalist are ending and Woodward and Bernstein are a fading memory even for the Baby Boomers. A new future awaits--for those who can make the transition.