Debating journalism's post-print path

Panelists discussed technologies and business models as paths to the future as the Internet changes the news business

With print journalism among the industries most impacted by the Internet, panelists at a Silicon Valley event Friday debated what possibilities are in store for the news business.

Indeed, the Internet has brought about a revolution in how content is delivered and wreaked havoc on the traditional print ad business model. Panelists, with backgrounds at organizations like the Wall Street Journal and Google, recognized technology trends that could lead the way for journalism, such as e-reader devices like the Amazon Kindle  as well as rich content versions of publications. They also pondered content delivery models including subscription-based Web publications and blogging.

[ Google has been bringing old newspapers online with its Google News Archive Search service. ]

The issues were covered during a Churchill Club business and technology panel session entitled  "Journalism after Print," in Palo Alto, Calif.

Moderator Sam Whitmore, editor of Sam Whitmore's Media Survey, a media analysis service, displayed a Kindle wireless device, which can be used for news reading. "More than a product, it's a symbol. A symbol of hope for the publishing business,  the journalism business," he said.

But panelist Mike Masnick, a blogger and CEO of analysis firm Floor64, shot back," That device is not the savior of journalism."   The device, Masnick explained after the session, is "a very specific device for a specific purpose,"  with its own limitations.

Panelists also noted the rich content version of Sports Illustrated for tablet devices, featuring touchscreen and video capabilities.  "The ability to do commercial story-telling through a tablet, I think, is going to be the big story of the tablets," said panelist Ken Doctor, a news industry analyst at Outsell with experience at publishing companies such as Knight Ridder.  "Basically I look at it as a smartphone or an iPhone on steroids."

Masnick questioned why Sports Illustrated is not offering such a rich content presentation on its Web site. "Why are you waiting for a tablet? Why are you waiting for a table that nobody has," he asked.

Whitmore, interviewed after the event, suggested a need for a standard rich media format for Kindle and e-reader devices like it, such as what PDF offers for documents.

Masnick also rejected the notion of "pay walls," with readers paying for content, as a way to save some aspect of journalism. "There's no evidence that makes any sense at all," said Masnick. Pay walls present the opportunity for someone else to present similar or better information for free, he said.

But panelist Rebecca Buckman, a freelance journalist formerly with the Wall Street Journal and Forbes, said the Journal has continued to charge for content. She endorsed a flat subscription fee for  top-tier publications such as the Journal or The Economist.

With ad revenues down, there are fewer journalists and they have more to do, Buckman said. "You don't have time to do your long-form story," she said.

Panelst Krishna Bharat, who holds the title of distinguished researcher at Google, objected. Wikipedia, for example, has offered a long, growing account of the Haiti earthquake disaster.  "The industry could learn a lot from Wikipedia," he said.

Buckman, though questioned whether Wikipedia is journalism and lamented a lack of reporters available to write stories.

Masnick said long-form stories do not necessarily need to be written by a single reporter and that more people besides journalists are participating in the story-telling process. "I would argue that there's probably a billion more things being told today," than previously, he said.  Buckman countered that standards-based journalism is "something important."

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