Mojos, the 'F' word and the future of newspapers
Meidyatama Suryodiningrat discusses how the emergence of mobile journalists and free information on the Internet has changed journalism
The Jakarta Post
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
By Meidyatama Suryodiningrat
Newspapers are an endangered species. Like the lumbering dinosaur, the cumbersome newsprint is making way to the more nimble genus and lithe platforms of new media.
The fate of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, The Baltimore Sun, The Minneapolis Tribune and Denver's Rocky Mountain News is akin to that of the 40-ton brachiosaurus.
The global financial crisis is an extinction level event for traditional media in the same way that climactic changes obliterated the Mesozoic era.
To our south, News Ltd. (part of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.) which publishes The Australian, and Fairfax, publisher of The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, made several hundred retrenchments in the past six months with more likely to come. The Australian Financial Review is shutting its bureaus in Jakarta and London.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has stepped in by further subsidizing dwindling French newspaper subscription. In Britain, the government is debating aid for its regional papers, while in India several publications are effectively holding the election-facing government to ransom by "beseeching" tax breaks and sponsored advertising.
The demise of print media is not all due to the Internet or the haughtiness of print journalism. Even online advertising rates are not what they used to be in the dotcom heyday of the late 1990s.
The inability to adopt to new mindsets, a misguided interpretation of free information, and the conglomeration of media ownership seem to have been the catalysts for the downfall.
Today, everyone is a journalist.
Modern technology embodies the two essentials that characterize field reporting: speed and convenience. The pen may still be mightier than the sword, but the ubiquitous mobile phone is the quill of digital journalism.
Most print organizations, especially in Asia, have only in the last few years begun to realize the concept of Mojos -- mobile journalists.
Reporters capable of breaking news, in-depth stories and digital information (webcasts, blogs and video) all at once. Rather than rightsizing their young editorial staff to accommodate the new platforms, most organizations instead enlarge operations by creating separate entities, print and digital, which creates dualism and doubles overhead.
Specialists -- photojournalists, investigative reporters, op-ed writers -- are essential elements, but the bulk should be platform-agnostic journalists who can convey the established values of conventional quality journalism in a new medium.
Technology has allowed everyone to be a journalist. Citizen journalists are a qualified truth in modern journalism. However, it would be a mistake to allow the primary dissemination of information -- the foundations of democratic society -- to go to blogs and mailing lists permeated by rants and foolish outbursts.
During the 150th anniversary of the Atlantic Monthly last year, editors argued that reading habits had not declined, but the way people were paying for their reading had changed.
Despite technological advances, conventional and digital media retain the same model in generating revenue: page viewed advertising. When advertising tanks, so does the publication.
When the Internet burst onto the scene, the (un)conventional wisdom was to provide everything for free. For anything other than premium porn, the "F" word (free) was the pervasive dictum on the Web.
That precept is now seriously being re-examined. Good stories, good photography, good art and especially good journalism cannot pay for itself.
Consumers act like one, by paying for it!
The lessons of millions of songs, books, newspapers and movies sold on Apple's iTunes, Amazon's Kindle and Netflix are evidence that consumers are willing to pay, as long as a practical, safe payment system with immediate delivery options is readily available.
Furthermore, the present perils of many newspapers may not necessarily be due to poor editorial quality or the absolute decline of readership, but the way big business have treated newspapers as a portfolio investment.
Stephen Quinn, lecturer of journalism and media management at Deakin University in Australia, said that if a newspaper is on a backslide due to economic recession, it can survive with sound management and innovation.
"If the issue is debt, then it's difficult," he remarked at an editors' meeting over the weekend in Bangkok to mark the 10th Anniversary of the Asian Newspaper Network.
Hence the doom that saw most American papers file for bankruptcy.
The utmost concern for many newspaper editors, however, is not that they are a dying species, but that they may become a protected species under the aegis of the government.
Developments in France and India are a sellout of the Fourth Estate.
Mathias Döpfner, publisher of Bild in Germany, in a recent interview conceded that talk was rampant that the bailout model for banks and US carmakers should be extended to newspapers.
"That would be a dark day for press freedom," he said.
"A bankrupt media company is better than a government-funded one."
Date Posted: 3/10/2009