Sunday, August 22, 2010

How long will journalism wander?

Remember this classic?

It came to mind after reading a blog post by a smart young entrepreneur, then seeing that view expanded upon by a career newspaperman who has turned away from print.

The entrepreneur, David Cohn, founded Spot.Us, a website that brings together reporters wanting to do stories and readers willing to contribute money to see that the stories get done. He's a young new voice getting a lot of mic time as he's invited to make presentations at journalism and new-media conferences.

It was in connection with an appearance last week at the annual Aspen Institute Forum on Communications and Society that Cohn says he began to see what is happening in journalism today in terms of Jews wandering the desert for 40 years before gaining entry to the promised land. That is, journalism's old business model is broken and a new one hasn't yet taken hold, but the generation that has been in charge of news-gathering these past few decades is holding on to what it has known and is resisting calls for a change in "faith."

As a result, journalism as it has been practiced is doomed to continue losing readers and relevance until these geezers retire, die or just leave the field and a new generation can take the lead and put the news on a robust path again.

The salient part of Cohn's blog is under the heading "Generations In The Desert – Journalism" (and the picture of the camel); make sure you read the first comment posted on the piece, too.

Steve Buttry, the career newspaperman, soon took up the Cohn analogy, responding on his blog: "I have to say that I am embarrassed at the outlook, performance and leadership I have seen from much of my generation when it comes to journalism innovation. Dave may be right that we need to wander around in the desert and die off ... or at least retire before we can see a rebirth of journalism -- or whatever we will call it then."

Buttry left newspapers behind when he joined, a site in Washington, D.C., that is experimenting with a new journalism model as it delivers news and community information via TV and the Web. It launched Aug. 9.

Buttry also writes, "I think, though, that the wandering won’t take a full generation. I think right now organizations such as ... and TBD are already taking the first steps toward a prosperous, meaningful future. Dave and his generation may not have to wander as long as he fears."

As to the Boomers now in charge, though, "We might make it out of the desert, but I think our generation has blown our chance to lead the way."

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