Where is journalism going? That seems to be the question on people’s minds today. The answer is right in front of us, The New York Times wants a place on your blogroll.
Newspaper sales continue to fall, while some blame journalism and the writers, Slate has an article up about how the fault lies in a depreciation of newspapers ‘social currency.’ Unfortunately, though that article’s author does not know how to create a solution, many major news agencies do.
Over at The Elegant Variation, there is a post about how the “I” is becoming more and more prominent in book reviews. Of course, as they note, this is not only occurring in the New York Times Book Review, it is popping up in journalism all over, from printed newspapers to your local anchorperson.
These two issues are intertwined, the new personal bent to newspaper reporting is the industry’s answer to falling sales and the alienation of readers.
Journalists are now scrambling to find a way to keep their readers, the easiest way to do so is to have a personal connection with their reader. This may cause them to loose some of their audience, but by giving their consumers the opportunity to identify with the product, they are looking to increase customer loyalty. Newspapers and news media in general are desperate to infiltrate your social network, but they don’t know how to combat the increasing number of professional bloggers and news aggregation services while still turning a profit as a company.
If you can’t beat them, join them. Professional journalists are becoming more like bloggers in order to survive. just look at the numerous firings, hiring freezes, and budget cuts at most (if not all) mainstream newspapers. The problem with becoming more blog-like is that blogs work great for small numbers, but there is no way that type of media can support a huge corporate entity like the WP or NYT. Possibly the most successful blog company is Gawker Media, and I doubt they have more than a hundred people directly employed.
If the media is to continue in this direction it means becoming tight-knit versatile companies, and that is bad news for anyone looking to become a newspaper journalist.
Of course, those of us who have found solace during a cold night of copyediting with the AP Stylebook can’t stand this invasion of the “I” in professional reporting–even while the average reader (the one with the 6th grade reading level) eats it up. But what are the alternatives?
One word: Evangelism.
Newspapers have long relied on being the only game in town to grow readership and drive advertising. They still can’t escape that mindset. Blogging in newsprint can only result in disaster, it will take them from being a reference and professional outlet to being just one more voice among millions. Instead they have to take some lessons from tech companies on promotion of their brand.
In order to succeed, newspapers need to cultivate two types of evangelists. The first type is easy, professional evangelists need to be employed in order to go out and promote the newspaper and its benefits. This means real advertising campaigns (think viral), infiltration of social and professional networks, and a more open corporation.
The second type is the unofficial evangelist. A great example is Louis Gray for FriendFeed. Here is a person who has become an unofficial voice for a company-generated community. Newspapers need someone to be their voice in the online and professional communities.
Right now, even the best papers don’t quite understand the web. WP is a great example, while they get the need to diversify out into a number of niche sites, they fail to properly brand these sites. Likely some marketer thought that having The Washington Post brand on sites like The Root or Slate would hurt their web-community credibility. But really, they are missing an opportunity to build their own brand. For these sites, I have no doubt that a significant number of users have no idea that the host is WP. If they did, I’d bet that they’d be more likely to read the print edition.
Yes, newspapers need to create a social media presence. But blogalism is the wrong way to go. I only hope that the industry sees the light before it is too late.