January 3rd, 2008

How Many Journalists Would Go All Digital If They Could?

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Kara Swisher, a veteran Wall Street Journal reporter, who has covered the Silicon Valley boom and bust for the print WSJ newspaper, has announced that she’s gone all digital, i.e. she will be writing exclusively for the All Things Digital web site. Which made me wonder how many other journalists would go all digital if they could — and if not, why not?

Kara says she’s going all digital because she doesn’t want to kill any more trees, which although it’s an obvious rationale, is still striking to hear stated flatly by a long-time print journalist of Kara’s stature.

But more striking still were Kara’s other reasons:

  • The future of media is all digital, she has concluded, and she doesn’t want to be left behind
  • She prefers digital journalism for all its advantages

In Kara’s own words:

I would hope, for example, that if I were around riding for the Pony Express and I saw a newfangled car chug on by for the first time, that I would be one of those people who immediately got the fact that life as I knew it was about to change rather dramatically.

Because that’s exactly what I felt when I first saw early blogs, even though it took me many years to do anything about it and even though I
myself had basically stopped getting most of my news and information in print in favor of online.

But now that I am in the pool, so to speak, it feels completely obvious that being part of this medium–which combines all the excitement of discovery that characterizes the best of journalism, with the immediacy of blogging, wherein I can post in minutes what used to take hours and sometimes days–is the only place to be.

It means, for example, I can obsess over stories in ways that you just don’t do in mainstream journalism, coming back again and again to a particular theme or a company or even a person and then drilling down in ways that (hopefully) reveal a lot more to readers.

It also means she can be at the forefront of innovating new forms of reporting, like her already prodigious portfolio of video journalism — it isn’t print journalism, it isn’t traditional TV journalism — it’s something entirely new, uniquely interesting, and only possible with digital media:

So here’s my question — why don’t more journalists follow Kara’s example and go all digital? Some obvious reasons are that journalists:

  • Can’t get a job as a digital journalist
  • Don’t want a job as a digital journalist because it doesn’t pay as well
  • Don’t yet have the skills to be an digital journalist
  • Don’t want to acquire the skills to be digital journalist, i.e. don’t want to change
  • Want to do both print and digital journalism
  • Don’t believe the future is all digital
  • Believe journalism is better in print than digital

Funny thing is, despite having talked to many, many journalists about the future of media and journalism, and having heard all these reasons in various forms and combinations, I’m still not sure what is true for the majority of journalists.

I’m not sure whether it’s primarily an issue of jobs, skills, or perspective on the future of media and journalism.

I’m not even sure whether, on balance, most journalists are yearning to go all digital, or whether they thank their lucky stars every day that goes by without anyone asking them to do so.

I’ve certainly heard all the biases, prejudices, and stereotypes — but it would be more far more interesting to know what is in the mind of most journalists.

Mark Glaser at MediaShift has argued that there’s actually a good market for online journalism jobs, but he also points out that good data is hard to come by.

How many news organizations have offered their journalists opportunities to go all digital? How many have structured the transition of their business to support such a move by some of their journalists? How many have offered training? Is there a general alignment between journalists and news organizations on this issue, or is there a “digital divide”?

Anybody have any anecdotal answers, or know of any data or studies?

Comments (18 Responses so far)

  1. Actually, I’ve heard that digital (or online, or multimedia, or w/e) journos make more on average.

  2. Scott, there is another important hurdle that journalists must clear: entrepreneurship.

    The vast majority of reporters and editors never gave a second thought to becoming publishers, and don’t have either the training or the confidence to hang a shingle and “go solo.” Even if they did, there are still a lot of questions about which metric will matter most to advertisers.

    We’re not quite to the point where major shops ditch the presses – they are still operating on the accounting of “sunk costs” in their current infrastructure.

    But hey — if some forward-thinking J-schools are willing to make web-based business models a required part of the curriculum, then it’s a go.

  3. The difference in pay is a big one. When more blog networks start realizing that two dollars for a 400 word post is an insult, especially when (for a freelancer, anyway) the same article in a print publication would command between $75-$400 depending on the publisher.

    When this gets fixed, there will be far less resistance to going all digital.

  4. [...] noble sentiment, certainly, but it’s sparked some discussion as whether or not journalists should completely ditch paper and embrace new [...]

  5. well, Kara might be at the forefront…but she definitely needed to record her interview subject at Kodak better.

    pretty lame mistake…

  6. I agree with Ike.

    It seems to me the kind of argument that people have when they want to go into business for themselves.

    Some people like the risk of higher returns and self-employment and some people feel more comfortable “in the system”.

    Tom

  7. Successful blogging requires numerous short bursts of productivity and many well established writers have spent their career working on weekly or twice weekly deadlines (and often barely make those.) Many well respected journalists just can’t/won’t blog. They are good writers and their columns and articles can do well online but they can’t (or maybe won’t) open up and do what is necessary to have a vital blog.

    I ran an online division which had a well respected magazine division as well and the old school magazine editors and contributors rarely made the leap to solid blogger. Their posts were stiff, way too long, and very infrequent. There was very little readership and lots of huffing and puffing about how blogging wasn’t real journalism.

    Other can and have made the leap – Kara, Dan Farber, Om Malick, etc. As the print magazine/newspaper business model crumbles the model that supported really high salaries for weekly columns disappears with it. THose that can blog are and are making great money.

  8. Great topic and questions.

    Anecdotally, I think that part of the resistance is the perception of print vs. online. I worked for both IDG (97-99) when online was practially an after-thought (only a few people at that time were really working full-time for online) and at Ziff Davis (04-07) where the print folks were being told to move part of their efforts to online, and they worked hard to comply or they lost their jobs during downsizing.

    Five years is not a long time and journalists are being asked to completely change their perception of online.

    For years, print was the cash cow. Getting a page 1 story – and breaking news (in a weekly publication!) – was the goal for all of these writers. At that time, online wasn’t important. Stories were printed FIRST in the magazine, and then they went up online.

    The idea that online journalism and “getting clicks” is so important now is really hard for these writers to take. Many of them didn’t grow up using the Internet, they don’t like that they are being measured based on how much traffic they bring to the publication, and they would much rather go back to the days when getting a page one story meant that they were doing a good job. It’s weird for them to post a story first online, and they miss the days when their magazines were 100+ pages a week, and everyone loved them because it was their editorial integrity that brought in the money. Those days are mostly gone, and I think that many journalists are still in mourning.

    I also think that making that switch is a skill that many may not have, and there is a lot of fear involved. And not a lot of training. And for years, writers were being asked to move from print to online by managers who didn’t have a clue how to make the move from print to online (but recognized that it was necessary) and so there was little assistance along the way.

    Things are starting to change a bit now that digital is becoming more mainstream. But it’s a SLOW process.

    This article: http://www.btobonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20071003/MEDIABUSINESS/71003014/1105/FREE also has some more anedotal stories about what various B2B publications are doing.

  9. [...] Scott Karp asks How Many Journalists Would Go All Digital If They Could? [...]

  10. Who cares? Do I care whether I’m reading, listening to or watching to John Simpson’s analysis of the situation in a volatile part of the world? The BBC lets me do all three, anyway, without requiring him to waste his time and my money acquiring irrelevant skills.

    Do care whether I’m reading, listening to or watching an analysis by someone else who doesn’t know what they’re talking about?

    Do I believe that “journalists” who worry so much and so loudly about the minutiae of delivery are capable or worrying properly about the facts they want me to pay them for reporting?

    Only insiders, no, no, and absolutely not.

  11. I think that the next generation of journalists will be more open to the internet. They already see books, magazines and especially newspaper as archaic. They also don’t particularly trust large corporations (like news organizations) and will be much more open to being their own publishers or creating new forms of ownership/money streams.

    I agree with you that too many of us born before 1980 were brought up in the culture of corporate journalism and thought that being a good little worker bee meant a decent wage and a small pension with a gold watch after 30 years with ink on our hands.

  12. Call me old-fashioned, but I like to earn a wage. Freelance online journalism just doesnt offer that in all but a few exceptional cases. Most newspapers and magazines cover their costs (and more) out of cover price. Most online ‘journalism’ is comment. We live in the age of opinion. Opinion isnt fact.

  13. Okay, Gus. You’re old-fashioned. ;)

    Truth is we’re still trying to establish the baselines for the business model for real online journalism – and not opinion as you so well point out.

    Also, we (the news consumers) are still trying to wrap our heads around the real-world definition of a “trusted” news source. It’s about credibility, standards, and track record. The best shot will come from seasoned local reporters who have the contacts and the time-in-market to step out and run on their own. Some will do so proactively — most will do so after being laid off.

  14. I think it may mean freelancing and working other jobs such as PR in order to make it all work. A friend of mine who graduated 2 years before I did has been a freelance PR person for more than 10 years now, but she is also a health reporter for the Houston Chronicle when she has time and inclination. I think online journalism will work that way too. Write an post an article to an online publication for extra money until you establish enough cred to get more and more online work. Eventually you can quit the PR day job and just do online journalism. Eventually online pubs. will have enough money to hire full time reporters. But I still see online as more of a freelance type situation hiring writers who they trust for specific gigs.

  15. [...] Doug’s comment with this comment on my post about whether journalists would go all digital if given the choice: I think it may mean [...]

  16. [...] Publishing 2.0 had a good summary post of the recent post from Kara Swisher and the fact that she is now all digital. This is, of course, been happening for some time now and there are many journalists that we all work with who have gone 100% digital. At the same time there are hundreds of journalists who are not only continuing to write for a print publication, but they also need to put up daily blog posts, record a podcast and even record video interviews (all on the same paycheck, by the way). Let’s summarize: more work, more deadlines, same hours, same pay. [...]

  17. [...] Saul concedes that online journalism is more work — but has the potential to drive value back into the print product. For some journalists, like Saul and Kara Swisher, there may be an opportunity to shift most or all of their work online. [...]

  18. [...] How Many Journalists Would Go All Digital If They Could? – Publishing 2.0 Annotated [...]

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