The Future of Journalism Is...

May 26th, 2010

Shakes Magic 8-Ball: "Reply hazy, try again."

Some readers have been asking what will happen to the Advertiser blogs when the two daily newspapers merge in June and launch Last week, non-staff Advertiser bloggers got word that the Star-Bulletin will be letting us know which ones they'd like to continue. So my blog's days may be numbered.

But I don't intend to go quietly. I've always believed if you're going to write, then write like there is no tomorrow. Make your words count for something. And newspapers are something I've always been passionate about.

I started out as a college journalist in the late 70s when Woodward and Bernstein showed how important real investigative reporting was in our form of democracy. At the same time, writers like Hunter Thompson, Truman Capote and Tom Wolfe were putting their own spin on "reporting" non-fiction stories by using first-person and novelistic techniques. Today's journalism just doesn't seem to have the same soul. Now it's all about ratings and advertising revenues.

I literally grew up with news print on my fingers. As soon as I could read, I'd bring in the morning paper and flip to the comics or sports pages. My very first job was delivering the local afternoon paper to my neighbors when I was 10. My second job at age 12 was selling subscriptions to the Star-Ledger, New Jersey's largest daily. Our crew of kids went from town to town, telling people they could help us win a trip to Cape Kennedy by signing up for delivery.

In the 8th grade, our social studies teacher made us subscribe to the NY Times in order to read about the Vietnam War, which forever changed how I viewed the world. It also altered my relationship with my parents. As I learned more about the war, I began to question our government -- and by extension, my own father, who served in the Air Force and bought into the Dominoes Theory of communism as a threat to America. He refused to read the Times, a newspaper that did not shy away from exposing lies our government told us, or reporting atrocities committed by U.S. forces. When I finally spoke out against the war during dinner one night while the weekly casualties numbers were being flashed on the TV screen, we came to blows. He punched me until my face was a bloody mess.

What I discovered was facts are a dangerous threat to people with rigid beliefs. To me, journalists were NOT supposed to be objective or "fair and balanced." Because in the war of ideas, someone has to be on the side of the truth. It's not enough to simply report opposing viewpoints -- it's the fact-givers job to interpret the arguments and put them in context. However, that's almost an impossibility in our short attention span society, since most people prefer their news in convenient 30-second sound bites and pithy blog-sized chunks of text. The public wants simple solutions to complex issues, not thoughtful discussions. Who has time to read in-depth reporting these days?

Which brings me to the set-up for my next post: what do people really want from our local newspapers and TV news? And is there much future opportunity for journalists in Hawaii?

While we're on the topic, I'd like to hear what you think of eBay founder Pierre Omidyar's new venture, They started with a $19.99 per month subscription plan, which was discounted to $4.99 per month, and is now down to 99 cents for a 15 day trial period.

Any CB subscribers out there?

The next new Career Changers TV show airs Thurs., June 3 on OC16. But you can still visit our website for the link to my Squashed Gecko blog, which is about writing and the entertainment biz. No matter what happens with the Advertiser blogs, I'll still be writing something, somewhere!

7 Responses to “The Future of Journalism Is...”

  1. Michael:

    "Write on", Rich.
    Hopefully Star Bulletin will see the need to publish blogs or keep them online.

  2. Rich Figel:

    Howzit, Michael -

    I'm sure the new Star-Advertiser will continue with some blogs. The irony is the Star-Bulletin was slow to add blogs to their own website, giving the Advertiser a huge jump in the local blog-o-sphere. And now S-B will be calling the shots on which Advertiser blogs survive or not.

    Another irony: some readers will recall that I was doing the "Addicted to..." blog about addictions and recovery for the Advertiser about two years ago when I was "asked" by Advertiser union members to take part in a planned "blogging strike." The union felt reporters and staff shouldn't have to blog for the paper or learn new skills like posting videos and photos to the website, unless they got more pay for doing so. They were also negotiating for pay raises and other things they wanted from the newspaper owners.

    But I pointed out that if all the bloggers stopped writing, readers would just go elsewhere for online content. It wouldn't hurt the Advertiser owners -- it would only hurt employees because they'd be losing readers. I suggested they use the blogs to address the bigger issue affecting all newspapers: declining ad revenues and fewer subscribers willing to pay for news.

    Instead, the union members and some of their supporters chose to attack me for being a scab! Now here it is two years later, and many of them will be losing jobs because they didn't want to face up to the real problem.

    Lesson learned: adapt or perish. In some cases people will have to do more for the same pay or less if they want to hold on to jobs. It's either that or start your own business so you can be the boss and call the shots.

  3. Michael:

    With the replacement of my computer, I can now read online blogs. The paper will always be needed so that all can see what is going on.
    Too many people depend on the computer and realize when one doesn't have one, back to the dark ages. Online does not help sell News if free. One reads blogs online but no Blogs written on paper.
    Need to change this so people who buy the Paper can read the blogs as part of the paper like comics or horroscopes.

    I am like you and love to write. I would write to say what I cannot say in words. I however don't use big words so I use long sentences. After all big words are just made of smaller words put together.

    Everyone wants to put in their 2 cents but not willing to pay for it. Wonder how peers is doing? If the owner cares about his employees and not making money, should be OK?

    Adapt and perish but not become a Tabloid where News is second to Telling a Story. Business now days are for money, who cares to them what is written, as long as it sells.

    Hard for me to be taught Old School and try to adapt to New School.
    The basics of Old School must be learned before what determines what is New School.

    Did you know by Law that Unions cannot harrass a member for crossing the line? It is hard to bear doing so but one comes to dog eat dog, Unions not going pay for one being laid off or Health Insurance. One does what has to be done.

    Well, rambling me.

  4. Rich Figel:

    I should clarify something: most blogs don't qualify as "journalism" or reporting -- especially if they're just rehashing news and info from other sources... usually newspapers. As an editor friend of mine pointed out recently, anyone can spew whatever they want in a blog since there aren't editors to provide any semblance of fact-checking, guidance, or help with basic grammar/writing skills.

    But I do think blogs can play an important role in disseminating info and allowing people to express themselves. The problem is most people only read blogs that support their views, which creates a closed feedback loop. Hence, the increasing polarization of factions, based on political and religious beliefs.

  5. Michael:

    If you read other blogs there are blogs that are made for comments. Many blogs I read, I read but find I cannot comment on them. Does not mean I don't read the blog, the blog is just for my leisure reading and maybe not meant for a comment. To enjoy what a writer shares in words of their thoughts. I write blogs but only in what I see in a picture. Any picture my blog is my interpretation of what I see in the picture.

    In News Don Hewitt who recently died and founder of 60 Minutes said in a simple quote "Tell me a Story". You can tell a story in words as a photographer does in pictures, that is what you do.

    I comment as to be heard. Maybe someone reading your blog who can make a difference finds, I may have an answer to the problem. You offer the problem, many who comment try to solve it. I am here but I don't want to be in the light. I am the Shadow, but I don't know everything.

  6. Damon:

    You may be interested in the results of this Civil Beat Poll that I ran on my blog.

    I've found blogging to be a hobby where I can actually make a little side money from ads and sponsors... will that be the new direction of journalism?

  7. Rich Figel:

    Damon -
    Are you really able to make much money off your blog? I don't think it can be a viable option for working journalists unless they can make a decent wage -- and from what I hear, most bloggers are lucky if they make a couple hundred dollars per month off those Google ads or sponsored links.

    I wasn't really surprised by your poll results on Civil Beat. Did you know that today they are making the site "free" to anyone who wants to "see what you've been missing" in Pierre Omidyar's words (via Twitter). I went, I saw, I was underwhelmed.

    My biggest gripe with CB is the lack of a "personality" or any real identity. Their style of reportage is... well, bland. They're like a store that offers five flavors -- all vanilla.