The Future of Journalism

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The web has changed many aspects of our lives, including the dissemination of news. Some predict the death of newspapers, while media companies struggle to figure out a revenue model that works in the digital age. Arizona State University Journalism Professor Tim McGuire discusses the future of journalism.

Ted Simons: How is the digital age changing the way that news is presented and consumed? Our next guest thinks that the changes are in his words fundamental and earth shaking. He sees media institutions as no longer in control of news, audiences are, and he says operations better get used to yielding power to their audiences. Our guest, Tim McGuire, who recently published an essay on journalism in the digital age. Good to see you.

Tim McGuire: Good to see you.

Ted Simons: This was quite an essay. Why did you write it?

Tim McGuire: Well, it's called this, I believe, and I actually believe that's a good exercise for all of us to every now and then sit down and just write out what you believe. It may be about your personal life. It may be about your industry. I chose the industry in this case. I think that sort of reflection is very good. I learned a few things from putting my thoughts down.

Ted Simons: What do you believe?

Tim McGuire: Well, I believe a lot of things. But I do believe that this moment, this time of change, is dramatic, and there's no stuffing it back in a bottle. Everything is now loose. As I said in the piece, I stole it, but the deer now have guns.

Ted Simons: What did you mean by that?

Tim McGuire: The audience is in control. The audience absolutely -- ask Netflix, Bank of America. The audience is without question in control. And the gate keeping function that newspapers used to value so much has to be rethought in some basic ways.

Ted Simons: When did media institutions, old media, if you will, when did they lose control?

Tim McGuire: I think with the internet. The point I make in the piece is if people view this as a media problem, they are missing the point. Government is losing control. Look at your political situation. All your different factions. That comes from the power of internet. You were telling me stories about what happens on Facebook and twitter when a breaking news event occurs. We used to be in control of that. I'm reading Cronkite. The biography. It's just wonderful. I read last night about the Kennedy assassination and how he handled that. He was in complete control of the dissemination of that. Can you imagine the twitter traffic that would be going on today?

Ted Simons: Can you imagine the misinformation.

Tim McGuire: Oh, it's frightening.

Ted Simons: But that is frightening. People will say, okay, gate keepers are gone. Here come the masses. Here they come trampling. Who watches out to make sure misinformation doesn't fly?

Tim McGuire: The audience will have to decide in my view that they need brands to monitor that process. I think that in every case you have when you have tools that allow people to take control, you will have a big rise. Eventually people are going to understand that, hey, I gotta go somewhere where I have trust with these people have credibility. I think the brands who have cultivated integrity will survive and will do very well.

Ted Simons: Even in this age of everyone seeming to want affirmation instead of information?

Tim McGuire: Well, I would correct what you just said there. Everyone. No, about 5% of the market on one side, 5% of the market --

Ted Simons: You think it's that small?

Tim McGuire: What you're really talking about, let's be honest, is fox and MS-NBC. Look at their audiences. That's a good indicator of how much affirmation over information matters. It matters to some, and certainly there are a lot of websites, etcetera, but it's still not the majority of your audience. I do think we try to address that. I think we overreact to things. You're going to have people on far ends of the spectrum, but the fact is America has always been a land of the middle, and even with these new tools, I don't see that changing.

Ted Simons: That's interesting because a lot of folks see it otherwise. We had surveys in the south during the primary campaign where most folks thought the president really wasn't an American citizen. They get this information not from old media, they get this from places that affirm what they believe.

Tim McGuire: Certainly, but again, if you do the numbers across the country, that is not anything like a majority.

Ted Simons: The idea of information at will, you're saying that the filter will be there because people will trust the brand. How do the brands stay alive, stay afloat?

Tim McGuire: That's going to be a trick. I think advertising is going to be reinvented. I think there will be some consumer revenue. My alma mater, the Minneapolis "Star Tribune," just reached this week a point where their advertising revenue and consumer income is about 50/50. That means advertising revenue dramatically declined since I was there, but I think that different newspapers in different communities are going to figure and different TV stations, different networks are going to figure out different kinds of solutions to the revenue problem. I think a lot of that experimentation is tremendously exciting. If you look in the rearview mirror in today's media, you're going to get creamed. You have to be looking through the windshield and looking forward.

Ted Simons: Is a lot of old media still looking in the rearview mirror?

Tim McGuire: Oh, without question. Way too much. Way too much. There are just too many organizations who don't fully embrace digital. They don't fully embrace the fact that we need thoughts from outside the industry. And to my great dismay, here at the Cronkite School I don't think they are addressing youth enough. I believe that in our classes at the Cronkite School there are a lot of young people who hold important answers. I would very much like to see the industry embrace them more wholeheartedly.

Ted Simons: So that's one thing that responsible news organizations can do to look forward instead of back. What else? New Orleans times Picayune. They are not a daily any more. That's a major source of information for that wart of -- that part of the world. How do they survive? Where do they go?

Tim McGuire: Well there will be a digital operation. There will be a three-day a week news operation. And there will be competition starts up that might make the New Orleans news eco-system better. An interesting thing is happening in New Orleans. They are a wonderful example. Today a major group of business people approached the newspaper and said, don't do this. Don't do this. Well, what's going to come out of that conversation, the newspaper is going to say, what are you going to do for us? We're doing this because our advertising revenues have fallen through the floor. Can you be a part of the solution? Wow, that would be really exciting if the New Orleans times Picayune had established itself as so much of a utility in that community that a group of community leaders partner with the newspaper to salvage it. I think that's a real possibility there. It's a testament to what that paper has done in their community and more newspapers need to get that kind of loyalty from their community.

Ted Simons: You mentioned utility. What about the idea of nonprofits. What about the idea of that type of an operation expanding, growing, making a change?

Tim McGuire: Certainly. One of the things in New Orleans that could happen is they could commit to more advertising. They could say, we're going to get big leaders and put money in a pot for an endowment, and we're going to endow certain parts of the newspaper for the next 15, 20 years. You're going -- the only way that news as you know it and love it is going to survive is if people completely reinvent and rethink everything they have known before. Open themselves up to all sorts of possibilities.

Ted Simons: Are we ready to open ourselves up to all sorts of possibilities and fail?

Tim McGuire: That is a great question. Too many people aren't. Too many people just aren't. The I'm still not satisfied with the level of enthusiasm for reinvention. I see too much of this what they are calling pay walls, consumer revenue thing, the tablet thing, as being ways to resurrect the past rather than to build an exciting future. That is my concern.

Ted Simons: Well, you're optimistic.

Tim McGuire: I am. I believe that the reinvention could be incredibly exciting, and I think that rather than saying, oh, this is going to be horrible, I would like to see people get excited about the possibilities.

Ted Simons: Tim, always great to hear from you. Thanks for joining us.

Tim McGuire: Thank you.

Tim McGuire:Professor, Arizona State University Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication;

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