Are We Really In a New Age of Journalism

As many of you know, I am involved in an Israeli citizen Journalism project called Scoop (Today’s Haaretz carries an article about Scoop in Hebrew). It has been a tremendous learning experience that has impacted many of my impressions of the media, some of my investment decisions and improved my general understanding of the internet and user generated content.

Scoop has also forced me to give quite a bit of thought to the evolving role of the blogosphere, journalism, publishing and its impact on Old Media. I blogged about it previously but two recent articles caught my eye.

In a somewhat lengthy article entitled Amateur Hour, Nicholas Lemann, writing for the New Yorker, claims that Citizen Journalism and the Blogosphere are much ado about nothing.

Writes Lemann,

“In fact, what the prophets of Internet journalism believe themselves to be fighting against —journalism in the hands of an enthroned few, who speak in a voice of phony, unearned authority to the passive masses —is, as a historical phenomenon, mainly a straw man. Even after the Second World War, some American cities still had several furiously battling papers, on the model of “The Front Page. ” There were always small political magazines of all persuasions, and books written in the spirit of the old pamphlets, and, later in the twentieth century, alternative weeklies and dissenting journalists like I. F. Stone. When journalism was at its most blandly authoritative—probably in the period when the three television broadcast networks were in their heyday and local newspaper monopoly was beginning to become the rule—so were American politics and culture, and you have to be very media-centric to believe that the press established the tone of national life rather than vice versa.

Every new medium generates its own set of personalities and forms. Internet journalism is a huge tent that encompasses sites from traditional news organizations; Web-only magazines like Slate and Salon; sites like Daily Kos and NewsMax, which use some notional connection to the news to function as influential political actors; and aggregation sites (for instance, Arts & Letters Daily and Indy Media) that bring together an astonishingly wide range of disparate material in a particular category. The more ambitious blogs, taken together, function as a form of fast-moving, densely cross-referential pamphleteering—an open forum for every conceivable opinion that can’t make its way into the big media, or, in the case of the millions of purely personal blogs, simply an individual’s take on life. The Internet is also a venue for press criticism (“We can fact-check your ass!” is one of the familiar rallying cries of the blogosphere) and a major research library of bloopers, outtakes, pranks, jokes, and embarrassing performances by big shots. But none of that yet rises to the level of a journalistic culture rich enough to compete in a serious way with the old media—to function as a replacement rather than an addendum.”

While I agree with Lemann that there is a lot of hyperbole in the journalistic revolution, the new format and instant distribution of online information is making individual journalists and platforms much more influential and the low costs are engendering new business models.

This leads me to a second article written about Mark Cuban’s latest journalism venture where he is using ex- St. Louis Dispatch Journalist Christopher Carey to influence the stock market and Cuban will be investing ahead of the scoops.

Marc Glaser, writing on MediaShift seemingly takes issue with Cuban both from a business and ethical perspective.

“In my lengthy email debates with Cuban, he told me that he wasn’’t out to manipulate the market and wasn’t looking for short-term gains after publication of the investigative reports on Sharesleuth. So if he keeps his short position in a company such as Xethanol for the long term, how can Sharesleuth make money now?

“It doesn’’t, but that’s OK, Cuban said. Hopefully I never have to cover [my short trades], if the quality of work is good and we uncover more companies and situations like Xethanol, the return can be lucrative. It just doesn’’t have to be fast. We don’’t have a staff of 900. I can afford to be patient.”

I am less interested in the ethical debate and more fascinated by the business model. What Cuban’s venture shows is that there are other ways to make money from online journalism other than advertising. By keeping costs down, you can look for novel business models to support journalistic or semi-journalistic/research endeavors.

Part of the debate on both of the abovementioned articles is due to the fact that much of the media reporting on the topic is analyzing and debating it through an old media lens. How do you get enough readers so that your ad model is profitable? Is this really journalism? Hasn’t this been done already with handouts?

I think this misses the point. Technology is not just enabling a new form of journalism, media and entertainment, it is changing the entire definition of what journalism is, and what makes entertainment. I am certain most of Hollywood sneers at the media snacks on Metacafe (Benchmark company) and YouTube and says, that is not entertainment. Wall Street analysts and maybe the Wall Street Journal probably belittled the stock market analysis on SeekingAlpha as well, much as Lemann and Glaser do above. But people, readers, consumers want information and they want it in different and changing ways and it will impact them differently. The debate will shift when the Webster dictionary definition of all of these terms change, or should I say, when the definition changes.

[Originally published on 7th September 2006 by MIchael Eisenberg]