Is It the Golden Age for Journalism? [Smart Set]

Smart Set

Welcome to the weekly The Smart Set, where I share three smart pieces worth reading about the publishing and media industry. I also point to issues and questions raised, and welcome you to respond or ask your own questions in the comments.

“To seek: to embrace the questions, be wary of answers.”

—Terry Tempest Williams


Journalism Is Doing Just Fine, Thanks by Matthew Ingram

The top-line summary of this article says it all:

Some argue that the rise of the internet has destroyed — or severely crippled — journalism, but all it has really done is disrupted traditional mass-media business models. Journalism itself has never been healthier, and new players are finding new models.

I agree whole-heartedly. The health of journalism oughtn’t be tied to what’s happening to the business models for newspapers, magazines, or traditional/legacy outlets for journalism. (I wrote more about this here: Reasons to Be Optimistic During the Disruption of Publishing.)

Thoughts & questions:

  • Ingram himself asks, “If readers are being well served, and news reading has never been more popular, then why should we be concerned about the future of journalism?” Do you agree that readers are being well served? (We do know that news reading is up by all measures available to us, if you count—of course—online news reading.)
  • The business model for producing and distributing journalism is obviously changing. How concerned should we be about the death of the old business model?
  • Is it, in fact, the golden age for journalism, given the new opportunities presented by the internet?

The Tablet Magazine Has Been Flawed From the Start by Ricardo Bilton

Speaking of business model concerns: Magazines haven’t been doing all that great with their tablet editions. Bilton conducts an interview with Joe Zeff at ScrollMotion, who says:

There are some real opportunities to rethink the idea of a tablet magazine in order to recreate something that’s compelling. A tablet magazine should be smarter than the current set of publications. They should give me options about what content I receive and how and when it’s delivered. To do that, content has to be more modular. Today content is wrapped up in a magazine format, where everybody gets the same product. It really should be mixed and matched based on what works for me, not what works for the publisher. Content should be tied to where I am and what I’m doing, and become much more part of my regular routine.

Thoughts & questions:

  • I am a devoted reader of The New Yorker magazine’s tablet edition. I happen to think it’s superior to the print edition, though still flawed in many ways. Do you read any magazines solely on your tablet? Why or why not?

Is Buzzfeed a Tech Company? by Ben Thompson

In another thought-provoking post by Ben Thompson, he discusses the recent investment in Buzzfeed and comments on its desirability as a media company. One excellent point he makes is that Buzzfeed treats Internet-native formats like lists, tweets, pins, animated GIFs, etc., as equals to older formats like photos, videos, and long-form essays. He also applauds their use of native advertising. He concludes:

This is what makes BuzzFeed so interesting: absent legacy, media absolutely benefits from Internet economics as long as you can figure out effective monetization, and it’s possible BuzzFeed has done just that, and, just like their product, they have done so by abandoning that which primarily mattered in the old medium.

Thoughts & questions:

  • I wonder if native advertising is a flash in the pan, or something that will be a long-term and valuable source of revenue for publishing. For an alternate viewpoint on native ads (that is: far more negative than Thompson), check out Simon Dumenco’s Here’s What Else Is Wrong With Native Advertising.
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Posted in Smart Set.

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

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