Laziness is killing online journalism

By Mic Wright on June 26th, 2012

“In 20 years’ time,” he said, “there won’t be any newspapers left to do this. All these millions of hits won’t pay our salaries. The internet is killing journalism.”

– “Can The Guardian Survive?”, Intelligent Life

Nick Davies there speaking to The Economist’s Intelligent Life magazine. He’s a terrific investigative journalist – one of the best – but his take on the future of journalism is as ugly as that 80s-throwback leather jacket he persists in wearing. Just as his ultimate boss, Alan Rusbridger, is deludedly pinning the Guardian’s hopes on a rickety “open journalism” philosophy, Davies comes across as Eeyore with a phone hacking obsession when he talks about the internet and journalism.

The internet is no more killing journalism than home taping killed music. The internet is changing journalism, which is frightening for traditional hacks such as Davies. If anything is killing newspaper journalism in the UK, it is the Guardian’s pathological commitment to a free model that has seen it shedding staff like a snake sheds skin. Its pursuit of News International beyond the scope of the Leveson Inquiry doesn’t help either: for the Guardian, Murdoch is Satan regardless of his investments in UK journalism, without which there would be significantly fewer titles and less pluralism.

The internet combined with the iPad has actually rejuvenated journalism in many ways. It’s not all burbling bloggers, ill-thought-out experiments in citizen journalism and the horrific content farming of Mashable and the Huffington Post. Allow me a moment of immodesty by way of example: the recruitment industry report I recently penned for The Kernel was a serious piece of factual, public interest journalism – 14,000 words in total – properly paid for and presented to an intelligent and appreciative audience. (That’s you.)

The Kernel is not alone in being committed to high-quality, entertaining and enlivening comment, investigations and reportage, of course. There is now a movement in support of long-form articles. Look at and continuing growth in the use of apps such as Instapaper. Additionally, services such as Byliner and Amazon’s “Singles” line are getting writers paid for journalism and comment that are up to the standard of anything that emerged in the “golden years” of twentieth century newspaper journalism.

When people like Davies crow that the internet is kicking the hell out of journalism it is in part because their traditional platforms are crumbling. If you follow long-standing UK journalists on Twitter, you’ll often see them advising each other to “not read the bottom half of the internet” and “not feed the trolls”. There is a sense of elitism and entitlement from many prominent writers. The internet has forced them to hear the readers rather than simply throw their opinions down to the sweaty proletarian masses like crumbs from their table.

The other big issue with more traditional journalists is their expectation that an editor must validate their projects and provide the funding for them. The internet offers the opportunity for writers to build their own prominence outside of a link to a newspaper group or magazine. Twitter offers a free platform to spread articles and influence while crowd-sourcing sites such as Kickstarter and Bloom VC (where I secured funding for an internet talk-show) give access to capital to get projects off the ground.

Journalism is not a monolith carved from stone, steadily being chipped away by the internet. I believe, for example, that The Kernel, a six-month-old publication, is producing excellent work every day, unafraid of long form, aspiring to build an audience that feels loyalty and affinity. Similarly, sites such as The Verge are pushing consumer tech journalism away from the press release nuggets and multi-page galleries that infest other sites. In other words, people still want to consume great journalism and great journalists still want to write it.

The Guardian is pursuing an unsustainable model, too confident in the righteousness of its mission. Look to Mail Online, the fulminating nest of celebrity tittle tattle and hard-nosed, link baiting opinion, and it’s clear that journalism can pay on the web, just as the Daily Mail in print shows newspapers can still make money.

Sneer at the Daily Mail and the Sun all you like, but they are still breaking stories, making money and surviving. If any part of journalism is dying, it’s the part that believes it has an inherent right to live.