Guardian Editor on Future of Journalism (and Who’ll Pay for It)

Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian, has published a lecture he gave this week. He asks, “Does journalism exist?” — and his answers, as you’d expect, are a must-read for anyone who cares about the future of journalism.

I’m tempted to quote from pieces of his talk. But it’s so meaty that I want to encourage you to take the time to read it for yourself. The lecture ranges widely — including the question of who’ll actually pay for information in the future.

When you’re done reading it, you’ll understand better why the organization Alan leads has deservedly become one of the most widely followed news sites in the English language.

4 thoughts on “Guardian Editor on Future of Journalism (and Who’ll Pay for It)”

  1. A fascinating speech and also insight into the issues all newspapers (and other forms of institutionalised media) are wrestling with. Rushbridger is struggling with what I call the emerging Great Schism between the Ism and the Ist (as in journalism and jounalist).

    We are just starting to realise the extent to which the business model for media tied content to a means of distribution and thus bound journalism to journalists. Distribution was expensive and it was therefore institutionalised. The people that produced the content (journalists) and the content itself were wholly beholden to the institutionalised means of distribution that was a newspaper.

    What the social media revolution is all about is the separation of content from a dedicated means of distribution because the ability to distribute is now free and available to all. What is therefore happening is a shift from institutions (journalists) into processes (journalism). Journalism is effectively an objective or destination or even movement which is no longer delivered exclusively through the institutionalised form of a journalist. This shift is not just happening in the media – it is happening everywhere, from financial services to politics. Essentially trust is shifting from institutions to processes – from places (experts, newspapers, blogs) to spaces (conversations, twitter tags).

    It is the defining shift of the social media age.

    Rushbridger clearly identifies the opportunities this may create, but perhaps the most telling statement in his speech is his use of the term “leagcy” to describe the print business. This distribution dependant legacy is what will always stop him from successfully moving into the new media space because it not only shapes the nature of his content it distorts any future business model because revenues raised from charging for content will have to subsidise this legacy. That is why the issue for newspapers is not really public acceptance of charging for content. What people won’t accept is paying for distribution (since distiribution is now free). Free yourself of your distribution legacy and the attendant print culture that shapes your content and you can create a business model that facilitates the process of journalism.

    The only way to do this is not to junk the print legacy – this is probably not financially possible. It has to be made to pay – and that can only be done once you recognise that it is a creature of distribution, not content. You need to find the content that is uniquely and exlusively suited to the medium of print (i.e. not the content that is currently in most newspapers). It is not really a question of unbundling newspapers and creating ever greater specialism – this can only ever live in the digital space. It is a question of bundling-up all your distribution dependant content – the stuff that only works when it is printed. The result won’t be a newspaper (news will have left the building) it will be a “something-else paper” and it certainly won’t be daily and it certainly will be much more expensive. But it is only once newspapers have effectively quaranteined their distribution / print dependant content in this way, that they can get on with the business of journalism.

    For more on this see:

  2. Dan,

    I’d give the article Seth linked serious thought — it brings up the kind of issues (IRS issues when you mix non-profit with for profit) I was concerned about when you chose to be adviser for (could be a dangerous thing to have your name associated with).


  3. With the exponential expansion of media outlets, the traditional view of journalism must be redefined, or die. One of the most threatened paradigms is the concept of individual media resources (newspapers, radio and tv stations) employing their own stable of journalists and photographers.

    I believe it would be a viable solution for journalists to sell their work to an organization, similar to the AMA, that accredits and regulates its members and maintains the rules and standards. Such an organization can create local, regional and national collection points for news stories from accredited journalists, and distribute those stories, on a subscription basis, to news outlets in media across the board, including blogs. Subscription rates could be tiered on the basis of currency: the highest rates for up-to-the-minute stories, lower charges for weekly and monthly updates, lower still for summaries.

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