When Salim Jiwa left his job at the Vancouver Province after a 30-year career in journalism, he didn’t leave his career behind. He instead took the insights he had accumulated – especially in his last years at the Province while heading up its digital media efforts – and started his own online news outlet: Vancouverite.
Last Tuesday (May 25) Salim Jiwa shared his experiences with us at Social Media Club Victoria: I blogged about one aspect of Jiwa’s talk that night (journalism-by-press-release), but Jiwa touched on so many other aspects as well.
First, to recap: “Print media faces extinction,” and the habit of picking up a physical newspaper is gone (or going). By the time a story reaches print, it’s at least 10 hours old, so why bother reading it half a day late? Newspapers used to function on having “exclusivity” (exclusive access to a story, exclusive coverage of a story): this is no more. News-makers (governments, public offices, organizations, businesses) have hired ex-journalists, top of the line pros, who write the organization’s press releases, which are completely press-ready. The journalist who pieces together a story is effectively sidelined: now the “source” writes its own story (huge ethical implications and questions around free press here, too).
At the same time, old-style journalism programs at university continue to prepare journalism students for careers that don’t actually exist anymore. But still they crank ’em out (this reminded me of the conversation I had with Jon Beasley-Murray in the comments thread to my first post on Northern Voice 2010 – about the immorality of producing “workers” for jobs that are gone).
During the Q&A, I mentioned recently hearing of a New York City-area university program that combines journalism and computer science – and here (courtesy of a memory jog via google) are the details: New dual-degree master’s in journalism & computer science announced at Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism. See also Wired’s coverage of the new program. It all reminds me a bit of Ryan Sholin’s 2007 advice (10 obvious things about the future of newspapers you need to get through your head) coming to fruition. Take, for example, Sholin’s item #6: Reporters need to do more than write. The new world calls for a new skillset, and you and Mr. Notebook need to make some new friends, like Mr. Microphone and Mr. Point & Shoot. Columbia U is jumping ahead even of this: the program doesn’t just teach journalism students to use Mr. Microphone and Mr. Point-&-Shoot, but is supposed to teach them to write software programs with which to address journalism-specific needs.
At Vancouverite, Jiwa single-handedly does what a traditional newspaper does with four to six people. Must be a lot cheaper to operate, yes? Well, an online outlet is definitely more agile and leaner than a mainstream outlet, but in both instances, the underlying question remains: What’s the business model and can it sustain the operation? Mainstream newspapers have seen ad revenue die away, but making [enough] money to make an online news operation fully viable is also very difficult.
If I understood correctly, the numbers are sobering: even with 25,000 visits (unique page views) per month, the money generated through ads hovers around $500 to $600 monthly. (I’m open to being corrected here – perhaps I completely misunderstood, but if I didn’t, sobering it is.) Udate/edit: I’m way off on my remembered numbers: as Salim notes in a comment to this post, Vancouverite “averages about 80,000 to 120,000 visits per month – not 25,000″ – and, in spite of those numbers, even with “80,000 to 100,000 unique visits per month, click ads can produce less than $200 per month.” Very sobering numbers. /update
During discussion, we briefly touched on the question of hyper-local reporting and selling ad space specifically to local businesses (different than generic google ads), which in turn could generate more revenue. It seems to me there are some significant roadblocks here, though: how much would local businesses be willing to pay for online ads, if they’re already either (1) drawing enough business through established local custom (the “we don’t need to advertise, our customers know where to find us” mentality of successful local niche businesses), or (2) generating enough word-of-mouth traffic through social media (earned media)? If you’re so cool that your customers tweet about you, why should you pay to advertise anywhere?
The funding model seems somehow unmapped: terra incognito.
I’d argue that in both cases (traditional media and new online/ digital media) we’re also talking about making accountability journalism viable (that’s Clay Shirky’s phrase). We know that in print media/ traditional media it’s dying. Where is it going online? I found myself balking a bit at the suggestion that “bloggers” aren’t accountable, although I have to admit that there are a bazillion bloggers out there and obviously not all of them will desire to be “accountable” in a traditionally professional journalistic sense. Add to this another twist: I try to be “accountable,” yet I never consider myself a journalist. I’m a writer, blogger, citizen. When I feel especially fat-headed, I might think, “oh, when I grow up, I want to be a public intellectual – wheeee!” Never a journalist, though.
It’s a bit of the Wild West – or Revolutionary France, before the Thermidor.
Exciting times, no matter what we call ourselves – or what others call us…
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