Reasons To Feel Hopeful for News Media


November 6, 2010

I was asked to speak this morning at the All-Chicago Media Pep Talk, organized by Karen Kring of the Chicago Chapter of the Association of Women Journalists. Ten people each delivered two or three minutes of comments on why they had hope for journalism. Since I have never been a journalist, I decided to comment on news media. Below are my remarks.

I believe there are four reasons to be optimistic about the future of news media.

  • Post-modernist cynicism,
  • The Long Tail,
  • WordPress, and
  • Patch.com

Post-modernist cynicism creates a consumer attitude that there is no real truth in any one source. Truth – if it can be known – is individual and personal, rather than delivered. Today even the least media savvy know that you can’t trust what you see on TV and that smart people look for multiple sources.

This is very bad news for large dailies like the Tribune and Sun-Times, which have striven to serve the every man. They are like the old Marshall Field’s and Wieboldt’s department stores, once Goliaths that were slain by a thousand Lilliputian Circuit Cities, Gaps and Linens ‘n’ Things.

It is good news for startups looking to create a niche. If they can find you, readers will read you and consider you a credible source. You can get a foothold if you serve an unserved niche.

The Long Tail is Chris Anderson’s theory referring to the edges of a Bell curve. That our culture and economy is increasingly shifting away from a focus on a relatively small number of mainstream products at the head of the demand curve and toward a huge number of niches in the tail.

Again, this is bad news for large dailies. They can no longer provide one-size-fits-all-news, like the kind you find on newsstands. To capture reader interest, they must find ways to cover as many different niches as possible. This is what Tribune is attempting with Chicago Now – but even then, the Long Tail stretches farther than Colonel Tribune can reach, providing the rest of us with a lot of room to run in.

WordPress is a magnificent free tool with which you can publish your reporting in a professional-looking manner from Day One. It is easy for beginners to start, and if you choose to learn more, there is a world-wide, welcoming community that will show you how to solve its programming problems. It is a complex, free, very flexible tool that is the underpinnings of many important news sites including the New York Times and Yahoo News.

And my news sites too!

WordPress is as important a revolution in publishing as the pairing of Pagemaker with a laser printer was twenty years ago.

Finally, Patch.com is not a cause for optimism because they are hiring but because they are spending a lot of money on convincing people that hyperlocal news, with just one local editor, is a credible source. I am beginning to believe that Patch.com will be known as the Starbucks of local news. They will encourage an entirely new category of news consumers who are discerning about their local news.

As Intelligensia and Metropolis Coffee could not have existed without Starbucks first paving the way, I think Patch.com will do the same for hyperlocal news.

There’s a great deal of opportunity out there. But it isn’t like anything we’ve seen before.