“Be courageous. I have seen many depressions in business. Always America has emerged from these stronger and more prosperous. Be brave as your fathers before you. Have faith! Go forward!” – Thomas Edison
Thomas Edison wasn’t talking about the media when he said that. But I think parts of the quote are useful when talking about the media.
The internet showed up and changed the way we do business, period. Technology has changed the way we consume television, movies and books, it’s changed where we go for music (and how we consume that, too) and most importantly, it’s changed how we get our news.
Now, we’re at a point where no one knows exactly what’s going to happen. Are newspapers still viable when we can get news instantly and free online? Does that info still hold the same amount of legitimacy as what we would read in a newspaper? Are people still sitting down to eat dinner with a trusted news anchor on the television screen? Or are families too busy to watch news while they eat letalone consume food with one another?
These are all important questions. I’m going to twist Mr. Edison’s words a bit to say what I think.
The NPR came on to the scene in the 1970’s before the internet threw newspapers and other traditional forms of media into question. It’s safe to say they were pretty courageous. They came on the scene not with the intent to make money but to provide in-depth journalism without having to answer to big name advertisers or any other corporate body.
I’ve said this before on here, but I’m not sure I believe there is such a thing as independence in the media. There is always someone to answer to.
But regardless, the NPR model worked (and is still working).
By not relying on a traditional business model (because there are no other businesses relying on NPR to make a profit), the NPR hasn’t gone through the amount of uncertainty most media outlets have.
NPR continues to be courageous, not just in the in-depth stories they tackle, but by venturing beyond the traditional radio format.
Which brings me to my next point.
I might have taken Edison’s words out of order a bit. I’m sure he’ll forgive me.
NPR will continue to succeed because, unlike many outlets, they understand how to use social media, for the most part. They have their journalists tweeting back and forth with listeners. They have podcasts. They use Facebook. They get that people want their news now and want to take features with them on podcasts, because the younger generation isn’t always listening to the radio.
Some outlets are finally understanding Twitter.
NPR has never seemed to be afraid of stepping out there. They’re going forward and not hanging on nostalgia.
It’s hard to say how many outlets like NPR will still be around 10 years for now. Maybe non-profit and “independent” will be the way to go. Maybe journalism will be entirely online (if so, we’ll need to decide whether speed or accuracy is more important).
But I will say that outlets like NPR give me some faith that in-depth, trusted journalism can be produced away from a traditional business model.
Voice of San Diego, a more recent start up, also gives me faith. This website in particular seems to turn news into experience – Rupert Murdoch should be taking notes.
Not only is the Voice of San Diego website an enriching multimedia experience (without being overwhelming), but it embraces community reporting, an element that seems to be first on the chopping block for financially stretched media outlets. These people take it a step further than even the most ambitious community reporting – they pledge to take on only the untold stories, and only if they think they can do the story the best. Even if traditional newspapers fold, the Voice of San Diego stands a good chance of staying afloat, if the people who read the content like it enough.
It’s taken me a while to open up my mind to non-traditional media. I’ve always liked the internet and I’ve never been a stranger to social media or to reading news online. But processing the idea that news as I know it will not be consumed the same way 10 years from now (or 5 years from now) has frightened me.
But now, I think we’ll find a way to survive. We’ll find a way to maintain in-depth, investigative reporting and community reporting – if people want it, and so long as it is legitimate and accurate most of the time. I’m keeping the faith, looking forward (not behind me) and trying to be courageous when thinking about new media.