January 3rd, 2008

How Many Journalists Would Go All Digital If They Could?


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?

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Ian Kemmish

    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.

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