Is the limbo breaking journalism’s back?

Journalism is in limbo.

It hasn’t lost its value, but newspapers are becoming a stale medium and solid business models for digital journalism haven’t yet been devised.

The Newspaper Association of America would like you to believe that the stale medium part isn’t true, producing advertisements with statistical data to counteract the belief that “nobody reads the newspaper anymore.”

Indeed, the Association says 104 million people read a newspaper each day and that 61 percent of people aged 18-34 read a newspaper in an average week.

While I have no doubt the first statistic is true, the second seems a tad disingenuous. Skimming the sports page of a student paper – like all good University of Florida students do with the Alligator – can hardly be considered reading a newspaper.

The truth is: Generations X and Y don’t feel the same nostalgia toward newspapers that the generations before them did.

What was once a trusted adviser and a familiar friend – there to assist in matters of politics, gossip and entertainment – is now something that gets ink all over one’s hands and is hard to refold.

With up-to-the-minute news over the Internet accessible from almost any computer or mobile phone, the paper doesn’t enjoy the same monopoly on simple, transportable news it once did. Often, by the time the paper arrives, the news it contains has already been reported hours earlier online.

But, as the Newspaper Association of America astutely points out – even if it is while tooting the industry’s own horn – newspapers invest the most in journalism.

Television closely follows, but no amount of journalism via blogs and other non-profit ventures “could match the depth and breadth of newspaper-produced content.”

Clearly, then, we can’t allow newspaper companies to disappear – which is where networked journalism assumes its role.

Networked journalism, as presented by Charlie Beckett in his book “SuperMedia,” posits that through technological advances, the world has become far more interconnected and that journalism’s social role has only increased in importance.

Therefore, journalism cannot be a dying venture.

Through collaboration between the various forms of media, coverage can be expanded, content can be diversified and the transition to other forms of media can be smoothed.

The only thing lacking is creativity in business models that makes the reporting economically feasible. So let’s look at those who seem to be succeeding in this department.

Mark Potts has a two-part article on this at his blog “Recovering Journalist.”

Feel free to read it for more in-depth coverage on specific sites. I’m focusing on the lessons learned from capitalizing on new tools and the potential ramifications these contributions have to the rise of networked journalism.

First, on the Web there is no such thing as a stand-alone publication.

At least a good one anyway. Readers link to other sites, lookup unfamiliar information, dig further into stories, and link back (hopefully).

So, in the spirit of network journalism, make the news interactive – linking to unfamiliar concepts or events in stories and providing maps for uncommon areas.

A laurel to The New York Times for embracing this. A dart to the Los Angeles Times for failing to.

Second, fragmentation of the audience is a farce. Well, sort of.

Sure, the audience is split, but if networking is done properly, readers will stay connected to topics outside their niche. This follows the logic of “there are no stand-alone Web sites.”

For example, Politico and FiveThirtyEight.com are niche publications focusing on politics; but by linking, these sites bring the fragmented audience interested in politics opportunities to easily stumble onto other subjects.

Third, Web commerce is based on innovation.

Just look at the St. Petersburg Times’ PolitiFact. The goal is to engage in investigative reporting – which many thought had gone under with budget cuts at newspapers – to fact-check politicians’ assertions.

The innovative business model here is syndicating it.

Most newspapers have Web sites, Potts said, but don’t want to invest the initial capital to startup a feature like PolitiFact. Now, they don’t have to, paying PolitiFact instead.

Of course, there are a lot of sites that I didn’t mention engaging in innovative solutions to revenue problems in journalism such as foundation-endowed EveryBlock that provides customized news for an immediate area (block) surrounding an address.

Also, the collaboration between journalist and audience, employer and employee is strengthened by network journalism.

Blogging and other forms of social media make stronger connections between these groups and allow people to connect who otherwise might not have (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, etc…). This could lead to potential job opportunities, hiring opportunities, story ideas, you name it.

The one thing lacking is solid means of verification concerning “facts” found online. But then that brings us right back to a major premise of journalism: challenging information.

As I said in another blog post: ‘Paper’ is the only part of ‘newspaper’ that’s obsolete.

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