Recently, journalists at The Age went on strike for a week in protest at yet another large cut in staff numbers, claiming that independent journalism was at great risk if this cutting continued. Though I sympathise and value some of The Age journalists, particularly the commentators and analysts, I’m afraid they are like people promoting sailing ships when steamships arrived. The time of newspapers is over. Let me explain.
Not Enough Journalists, or Good Sources??
Far from there being fewer commentators and journalists available, there are many, many more people willing to be journalists and expert commentators now. It’s just that they no longer work full-time for a newspaper. My own sources of news no longer begin with The Age. It’s too local for me (but very good for intelligent local news). I also graduated to online some time ago, so the concept of a ‘daily’ ‘newspaper’ is totally outdated for me. I read headlines at least 3-4 times a day.
My own reading now consists of starting the day with The Guardian/Australia, reading The Age, then The Conversation, then Quartz and I’m done. But each of these papers draw themselves on several sources, so I’m accessing a wide variety of international, national and local news…and The Age is just one source…and it’s dropping down in importance. I also listen to ABC NewsRadio (which includes the BBC when I’m listening) and watch ABC24 (for intelligent commentary, latest news and ‘live’ news).
I’m not arguing in favour of my choices. I’ve considered reading The Economist, The New York Times, Guardian Weekly and many more. Just that there are many choices for any reader who wants information. And the main sources of course are Google (or similar search engines) for any topic, Twitter for instant, trending news, Facebook for personal news, not to mention TV, radio, podcasts, blogs or vlogs!! And as The Age declines in content and quality of writing (it is truly terrible now, but we all put up with it), its importance continues to decline…which is a great pity, because there are some terrific investigative journalists (Baker, McKenzie and others) and commentators (Gittins, Aly and others) who are always worth reading.
I’ve even offered to write for free for The Age, The Guardian Australia and The Conversation without success. I’d be happy to write just to get my voice to many readers. I don’t care about the money. But 17 books on strategy and 20 years of being a Professor of Strategy doesn’t cut it apparently.
So if I was a journalist on The Age (or elsewhere) and I understood anything about the industry and its future, I’d shut up and write or find something that is financially sustainable for me for the future.
The Future of Journalism
So what might the future look like?
People (many? Some?)will continue to value hard information and balanced analysis…because it is so hard to get and so valuable in a democracy for decision making, despite the current US (and Turkish, Russian, Philippines and South African and more) aberrations. But will they value the ‘fluff’ of an old newspaper? The Age has 20 feature sections and only 11 regular sections. That tells you people want specialised news, not generalised news.
Blogs and vlogs already provide specialised news. Good journalists all have their own blogsites and Twitter feeds, with zillions of followers. And there are networks of like-minded people who link them together, so information is rapidly transmitted, shared and analysed by peers.
So my guess is that we will ‘end’ (I’m not sure there is any ‘end’) up subscribing to some summary feeds, like Quartz or Crikey where, for a small regular fee, specific journalists and commentators from all over the world will provide their unique insights, knowledge and facts for very good money. We don’t want to have to search or subscribe to many sources, so we’ll be looking for aggregators…but aggregators who link like-minded material, not generalist material (There will be a big market for generalist ‘entertainment’ material, as the Daily Mail has amply demonstrated internationally already, but that’s not my personal interest.)
The Future of Journalist Employers
And the overheads will disappear. Head Office management, administrators and editors will disappear, leaving just content selectors and organisation sellers/marketers. Aggregator staff will be sitting in small offices or at homes, which is where the journalists and commentators will be operating from, probably in different cities or countries. There will be no fixed offices, no fixed salaries (probably a fixed retainer plus a variable amount based on the volume of material published or, more likely, for the number of readers reading the piece). Publishing will be 24/7 (it already is). Competitor journalists will be willing to write for free to break in to the powerful influence positions. The best will be rock star celebrities, who will then attract their own news sources from their reputation.
And, since people across the world are increasingly dealing with similar issues, success will be international. They will be read internationally, not just in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia or similar. That’s how industries work now. And journalism is just catching up. Sorry guys. The Age,