What happened to the news business?

Posted September 10, 2013

For most of the 20th century, any list of America’s wealthiest families would include quite a few publishers generally considered to be in the “news business”: the Hearsts, the Pulitzers, the Sulzbergers, the Grahams, the Chandlers, the Coxes, the Knights, the Ridders, the Luces, the Bancrofts — a tribute to the fabulous business model that once delivered the country its news. While many of those families remain wealthy today, their historic core businesses are in steep decline (or worse), and their position at the top of the wealth builders has long since been eclipsed by people with other names: Gates, Page and Brin and Schmidt, Zuckerberg, Bezos, Case, and Jobs — builders of digital platforms that, while not specifically targeted at the “news business,” have nonetheless severely disrupted it.

The precipitous fall of the industry that produces what we have come to call quality journalism — that is, independently reported, verified, branded information published or broadcast by institutions prepared to “stand by their stories” despite pressures from commercial or government interests — is hardly a fresh subject. Tens of thousands of articles, books, research papers, and documentaries have been devoted to the topic.

Not surprisingly, the press hasn’t treated this story like just any other industrial disruption. With newspaper news jobs down by 30 percent in little more than a decade, this issue hits as close to home as possible for journalists. More importantly, some go so far as to argue the disruption is so profound that it threatens the future of democracy itself.

Reasonable people can — and do — debate whether the replacement of legacy media by new forms of information gathering and distribution — including citizen journalism and smartphone photojournalism, crowdsourcing, universal access to data and, of course, a world awash in Twitter feeds — makes democracy more or less vulnerable. Usually the argument is reduced to a couple of symbolic questions: Who’s going to pay for the Baghdad bureau? Who’s going to replace the watchdog function at city hall traditionally provided by healthy metro newspapers?

Want to read more? Go here: http://www.niemanlab.org/riptide/introduction/