“Journalism will survive the death of its institutions,” argues David Cohn in a post on the site digitaljournal.com.
Speaking at a forum in Toronto on the “Future of News,” Cohn, the founder of a citizen media startup called Spot.us clearly threw his chips in with the “something other than what we’ve got” crowd. Cohn argues that institutions like television stations don’t make someone a journalist. He says anyone’s got that right, and more and more, people will play that role. “Reporters today can make their own credentials.”
Cohn believes that the top-down institutions we grew up with are going away, and bottom-up journalism will replace it. Where the money figures in–that’s the unanswered question, and Cohn suggests a LOT of trial and error before it’s fully figured out. “There are some things the public does better than journalists, and vice versa. It’s important for citizen journalism sites to figure out what can be done exceptionally with participatory journalism.”
I contacted Cohn and asked him specifically about local TV news, and whether it’s more or less likely to survive than the local paper, as both push forward websites and web-only content, and try to expand on a model that’s made money for decades…until it all fell apart. Since many, if not most of us, still work for these companies, and grew up on the old financial models (car company buys ads, ads make station money and pay for newscast, sponsored newscast needs reporters, station hires reporters, producers, photographers, etc.) Cohn’s answer may come as a dash of ice cold water.
“Local TV stations are even more screwed than newspapers,” he told me. “They just don’t know it yet.” Cohn says with every passing moment, the relevance of the 6 o’clock newscast fades for more and more people. People still want to know what’s happening in their town, but they won’t wait for Chuck and Sue at 6 to tell ’em what happened. And as stations push viewers to the web for “more,” Cohn’s just not impressed. “Their websites are absolutely atrocious for the most part.”
What might the future look like if Cohn’s right, and stations are “screwed”? Well, forget the networks, they’re bound for cable and Hulu. Your 2.0 local news might resemble vidSF, a local website in San Francisco whose very mission statement is that your Dad’s local news is dead: “We were inspired to start VidSF when we noticed our peers were no longer watching local TV news. Its style continues to stagnate, and its content is no longer relevant to our daily lives.”
Hey, before you soil yourself, remember this: your boss is probably way more clueless about this than you are, and hopefully he or she won’t check out vidSF before your contract comes up.