Journalism Will Survive. Your TV Station? Not so Much.

David Cohn:  Defining the Digital Generations Concept of Local News?

David Cohn: Defining the Digital Generation's Concept of Local News?

“Journalism will survive the death of its institutions,” argues David Cohn in a post on the site

Speaking at a forum in Toronto on the “Future of News,” Cohn, the founder of a citizen media startup called 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.”

vidSF:  Doing Local News, Just Not the Way You Do

vidSF: Doing Local News, Just Not the Way You Do

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.



Filed under Local News 2.0, Uncategorized

12 responses to “Journalism Will Survive. Your TV Station? Not so Much.

  1. chrisnh

    The thesis is a valid one: If you don’t have to wait until ‘Chuck & Sue’ at 6pm to find out what’s going on, then why should you? After all, Chuck & Sue are going to tell you what THEY want to tell you and they’ll package it THEIR way, sandwiched around endless car dealer commercials. In days of yore, there was no ‘alternative.’ Now that the alternative (the Internet) is thriving and giving us the what/when/how on OUR terms, the TV stations really ARE screwed. That they ‘don’t know it yet’ is rather scary; you mean they’re THAT devoid of brain cells?

  2. Sandy

    hmmm. I dont know if i agree. I think that journalism is going through a very dangerous transformation..that if not monitored properly, could have disastrous results. Journalism is an art that is dying..I just finished reading an interview series with various journalists (including the CSM editor) on the future of journalism…and its sobering. highly recommended:


  3. chrisnh

    I think a great blog entry would be on the state of journalism schools and enrollment trends. How can they possibly be growing if students are faced with mountainous college debt after graduating into a job market that is shrinking in terms of opportunities and salaries? The payback would be decades out, not merely years.

  4. I disagree about journalism fading away. Yes, traditional media might be struggling, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that journalism, especially good journalism, will completely disappear. The means (and media) used to distribute journalist might be changing, but it’s the journalism itself that shouldn’t change. At least that be won’t be the case for quite some time to come, hopefully.

  5. mediawiseguy

    Another know nothing , with an opinion about something he has never done. Anyone can report, get credentials and file video. But, what is the economic model that supports the work.? If Brian Ross just posted on the internet or John Stossel, they would not get enough hits to make a living. If 60 minutes was launched only on HULU, they would never create enough cash to sustain the reporting and producing.
    Television news is the core mechanism that enables modern visual journalism, actual journalism, not the crap posted who knows where. When Mr. TV NEWS finds another economic model, then he can declare the end of tv news as we know it. Until then, send your video to You Tube, and keep your day job.

  6. Chas

    Why should I rely on Chuck and Sue when Chuck and Sue just watch their local newspaper site all day long to see what’s going on?

    For all their troubles, newspapers are still the best journalists in most towns. It’s more likely that newspapers will successfully adapt video than TV stations will become good news gathering organizations.

  7. chrisnh

    True, morning TV news shows–the local ones–are simply your daily newspaper being read to you. But lest the newspapers get swelled heads over this, the journalists have decided to let ideological bias rule what they report and how they report it. In this country, Obama’s new dog is going to win Westminster. In the UK, the dog’s a ‘Mutt.’ Newspapers are dying for many reasons, and imbalanced, ideologically biased ‘reporting’ is one of them. Blame it on the ‘economy’ all you want. Newspapers were declining even when the economy was ‘good.’

  8. Charlie

    It’s sad but true. I worked at a local “News” station for a total of 10 years during my broadcasting career. These days they hire students right out of college with no experience who might had had an internship with someone, because they’re cheap. I have worked with some of the former heavyweights in our market and have watched local news go from being an important part of the community to a poorly written, sensationalistic group of screamers who don’t know what they’re reporting. Don Henley said it best…”Dirty Laundry”.

  9. Andrew

    I sincerely hope vidSF or something like it is not where we end up. As of this writing, they haven’t put up a new story in four days.

  10. Mark, thanks so much for the kind words about VidSF! This made my week.

    Andrew – We’re very new and very small 🙂 As momentum continues to pick up we hope to publish more regularly.

    • Andrew,

      I’d love to hear more about your adventures on the cutting edge. For many of us who come from traditional broadcast backgrounds, we look to you to answer a lot of critical questions about reaching and keeping an audience, exploring new ways to tell stories, and most important of all–is there any money to be made??

      I think we’d all love to read a guest post from you…if you can find time to write, the site is yours!



      • Sure! This is a great site and we would be honored. Feel free to send me an email with any questions and we’d be glad to answer them for an interview. I’ll get Kieran (CEO) in on this too since he’s the brains of the organization.

        I should warn you though, you may be disappointed with our replies. We still have a lot of unanswered questions ourselves 🙂

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