Journalism of the Future – a Missouri perspective

I’ve been in Columbia, Missouri (pron: Mizzoorah) for the past few days, enjoying the hospitality of the Missouri School of Journalism and helping them (in my own small way) to celebrate a Centenary of operations.

It’s also the launch of their state-of-the-art convergent newsroom and associated research and teaching facilities at the Reynolds Institute.

As well as honouring MSJ’s proud history, the celebration has a serious side, a forum on the future(s) of journalism. The focus of discussion has been on journalism, journalists, convergence and, of course, curriculum issues.

Link to Forum site

I’ve been able to get an overview of journalism education in a number of places and alongside my visit to the Annenberg School of Journalism at USC Los Angeles, I’m starting to get a picture of where the journalism curriculum is going and what the stumbling blocks are.

One interesting note: at Annenberg they’re still offering undergraduate degrees in print and broadcast journalism. Their MA program (I know Allison, but I am in America, OK!) offers tracks in print, broadcast and online.

I was also relieved to find out that the struggles and issues we face at AUT are really no different from those being tackled around the world. It’s not the case that we are a million years behind; in fact we’re on par with some of the bigger schools and not that far behind the leaders.

That’s the good news. The bad news is…

Well, there isn’t really any really bad news. The previous line was a devious journalistic trick to make you continue reading below the (virtual) fold in this post.

The small amount of bad news is that the outlook for mainstream media, particularly newspapers and magazines continues to be grim. I went to a presentation by Steve Buttry who’s been working on the American Press Institute’s Newspaper Next project. This is an effort by the newspaper industry to come up with a new business model and some strategic plans to overcome declining readerships and advertising revenues, by using the net more efficiently. His presentation was about version 2.0 of Newspaper Next – the transformation of American newspapers.

Click here for the Newspaper Next project homepage

Click here for the Newspaper Next project homepage

Steve was the source of the grim news I mentioned. He showed some figures that are sobering and worrying. Print display advertising was down 14 per cent in the first six months of this year across the US industry and print classified advertising fell even further; down 35 per cent. Online ad revenues were also falling; by 2.3 per cent in the second quarter of 2008. He also pointed out that in 2007 the Washington Post won an armful of Pulitzer prizes, but that didn’t prevent print advertising revenue dropping by $77 million. That fall was only offset by a $6 million increase in online revenue.

These trends are likely to continue and Buttry’s analysis is that online is where the opportunities are, particularly in profiled/targeted and video advertising. Steve’s presentation was interesting, but it really didn’t mention journalism very much.

In the Newspaper Next view, newspapers are not about news any more, they are to become “information and connection utlities” that “get the job done” for consumers and for advertisers. While the Newspaper Next folks are very proud of what they’re doing, I didn’t get a chance to ask Steve Buttry any questions [we had to clear the hall so they could do a bomb sweep before two political candidates came for a debate].

I really wanted to ask about the relationship between journalism and advertising in the brave new world of “information and connection utilities”. I got a strong sense from his presentation that advertorial was in the driving seat.

Well, it seems I might be right. I checked out the Newspaper Next blog and a Baltimore Sun case study appears to answer my question.

One of the video products they now sell isn’t really advertising at all; it’s a marketing product they call a micro-site. Clients typically choose this product when they want to present complex or multi-faceted information in small, well-organized pieces that allow viewers to get specific questions answered quickly.

Not “really advertising”, then what is it? The example given seems to blur the journalism/advertising line quite clearly.

Sinai Hospital wanted the opportunity to explain in greater detail its CyberKnife, an advanced surgical treatment for various kinds of tumors. It worked with to create video of doctors explaining the equipment and how it works, as well as testimonial video from a CyberKnife patient. Rather than post the video as one long infomercial, the team created many shorter videos, each between two and five minutes long, to answer very specific questions.

What’s interesting here is that perhaps no Baltimore Sun journalists were involved in creating these packages. It was the paper’s web development team that organised and produced the videos and hosting web pages. So newspapers will no longer be newspapers, but they might survive a bit longer.

At least at the local level. The models and strategies Buttry set out would probably work in smaller or even regional markets, but above that level things become a bit too diffused for one newspaper to be the “content hub” for the entire readership/audience.

It certainly isn’t going to save journalism and the news business at a global level, but there’s a neat little segue into another session that was looking internationally at journalism education. One of the panellists was Jean Francois Fogel from Sciences Po in Paris, which has one of the newest journalism schools in the world; it’s only five years old.

Journalism as “permanent campaign”

Fogel’s prescription for change in journalism education paralleled some of the changes Buttry was talking about and he outlined the three ideal graduate profiles that he would like to see emerge from Sciences Po’s journalism programme (OK Allison, I’m talking about a French program here); but they’re not really journalists:

“chief audience researcher”: Fogel said that this is a key position in the newsroom of the future because tracking audiences and understanding how to hold their attention will be a key requirement of commercial success online.

“chief innovation officer”: Fogel pointed out that newspapers had missed opportunities – using video, online classifieds, blogs – that had arisen outside the newsroom, but have had a serious impact on both journalism and the bottom line of publishers and broadcasters. He asked a serious question: “Do you have to be a geek to be a journalist of the future?”. We all laughed, but there was nor firm answer.

“chief platform editor”: This position is to manage the new “open newsroom” where there are no deadlines (except the constant pressure to update) and where audiences participate in the news gathering process.

This last one grabbed my attention because Jean Francois’s comments were on the mark. He talked about the current culture of “ambient online information” – a product of our almost constant connection to the Web. This was linked to the notion of the “permanent campaign” – the way that politics today is always in hyper mode and there is no stability. Governments and oppositions are permanently propagandising and shaking up voters. Now that audiences are constantly connected and because of the ubiquity of User-generated content (UGC), newsrooms need to change to a state of “permanent campaign” and “contiuous updates”.

The second panelist in this discussion was María Teresa La Porte Fernández-Alfaro, the Dean of the University of Navarra School of Communication. Maria’s presentation outlined some of the background to the oldest journalism program in Spain (founded in 1958) and the curriculum changes underway at Navarra. Maria pointed out that the traditional “Napoleonic” pedagogy – large lectures and highly directed teaching – was not really working in journalism education, so the curriculum is switching to a more “Anglo-Saxon” model of tutorials, labs and practical workshops.

Despite this difference, the goals and vision that Maria outlined for her curriculum is strikingly similar to those operating in English-language courses:

  • rational and critical awareness of current affairs
  • understanding diversity and respecting others’ values
  • techniques for searching, identifying, selecting and gathering information
  • clear and coherent expression in language(s)
  • knowledge of the concepts, categories, theories and subjects relevant to academic research in the field

Maria also outlined some priorities for journalism studies in Spain that also translate well into other contexts:

  • adaptation of the creative process and news content elaboration to new technologies
  • reduction of the gap between universities and the professional sector
  • consolidation of journalism as a specific university discipline with scientific autonomy

Muy buen. This is a very nice outline of my “training-education-scholarship” thesis for the future of journalism education. We have to move beyond training and even education to the idea of scholarship. By this I mean exactly the consolidation of journalism as a discipline, but also combined with research-led teaching.

It’s one thing to talk about the financial fate of newspapers and the need to further monetize the clickstream in order to bolster the bottom line by finding ways to repackage eyeballs to advertisers; it’s another all together to understand the global pressures affecting journalism. The eyeball sale is one of those factors; for journalists it’s part of the problem, not the solution.

Journalism’s future(s) are unknown at the moment. There is consensus here in Missouri that there’s uncertainty about both business models and models of journalism. It’s a fascinating discussion and I’m happy to be right in the middle of it.

4 Responses to Journalism of the Future – a Missouri perspective

  1. […] Journalism of the Future – a Missouri perspective – Ethical Martini […]

  2. Steve Buttry says:

    I’ll accept some responsibility for not making myself clear (though other blogs reflected a clearer understanding of my N2 presentation). I won’t respond point by point to any misconceptions here, but I should clarify two things:

    1. I never mentioned advertorial and it has nothing to do with Newspaper Next.
    2. I answered several questions after the presentation. This writer apparently chose not to join those coming forward to ask questions.

    Steve Buttry

  3. Steve, thanks for commenting. i don’t think I misunderstood your presentation. In fact I enjoyed it and thought it was stimulating. The issue of new news business models is a hot topic and I think that Newspapers Next N2, is a timely response.

    My comment about advertorial was not to imply that you’d talked about it, it is my interpretation and comment. I don’t think it’s out of place.

    As I understand N2, it’s about transforming newspaper companies, particularly at the local level, into community information hubs – one of your jobs that needs doing.
    To me the implication of this is that news is no longer the primary focus and as you mentioned in your overview, companies need to hire new sales staff to make the transition work.

    It is in this context that I raise my concerns about advertorial and also from looking at some of your case studies. I think it’s almost inevitable that, as the focus shifts from news to “information hub”, that the news will become diluted.

    I fear that as news companies take on more business partners through viral ad campaigns and video advertising online that there will be a tendency to reduce critical coverage in the community.

    After all, you can’t bite the hand that feeds you in these lean times. I’m sure I’m not the first, or last, to raise these concerns about your project.


  4. […] Journalism education – the pint pot problem I’m finally getting around to editing some of the video I shot on my recent trip to the USA. Today I’m uploading a short clip from the conference I attended at the Missouri School of Journalism Futures Forum. […]

Leave a reply and try to be polite

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: