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Hello everyone. Thanks to Digital First Media for asking me to the chat today. Happy to be here.
Indeed! Because academic publishing is so slow, I had already written Rebuilding the News before I even started working on Post-Industrial Journalism. One of the nicest things about Post-Industrial Journalism is that it gave me a chance to re-write/ re-think some of the things I'd already written in Rebuilding the News.
Let’s talk about Post Industrial Journalism first. How did you, Clay Shirky, and Emily Bell end up collaborating on the essay? What was the editorial process like?
So in some ways, they are both very similar and have a lot of themes in common.
So one day about a year ago I got an email from Clay Shirky, which basically said: hey, Nick Lemann of Columbia Journalism School wants Emily and I to write a report on the future of journalism, etc. And we were wondering if you might want to join us in the effort.
And of course when Clay Shirky asks you to write ANYTHING with him I immediately said "YES!"
We started Post-Industrial Journalism about 12 months ago. And the editorial process was actually way more straightforward than I would have ever anticipated with three authors, all of whom have very strong opinions and recognizable authorial voices. We basically spent a long time talking about what we thought, interviewing smart people who could help us understand the current state of news, and then got down to writing. Each of us then wrote a chapter, and then we went back and edited it for clarity / style / consistency.
The last thing I'll say about that process is that, one of the reasons it was so easy was because we were actually in agreement about so many things. Which we didn't know for sure when we started writing. We had all sorts of built in ways to manage conflicts between the co-authors, and none ever came up!
Interesting. You probably saw Josh Benton refer to you three as the Justice League of New York journalism -- so true!
As you discussed the essay in panels across the country, were you ever surprised by what portions different audiences responded to? Was there any sort of geographic trend to responses?
That's a really great question, Davis. There actually were some pretty interesting differences when we went to speak to the different parts of the country about the report, which were New York City, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.
In New York City, we were speaking to a lot of people "in the business," as it were. They were pretty accepting of all the things we wanted to say, though we got a lot of pushback on some of the stuff we said about "the public" and its' relation to journalism. The New Yorkers were kind of philosophical, in other words.
In San Francisco, not surprisingly, we encountered our most argumentative audience ;-). The San Francisco talk was in the awesome converted section of the SF Chronicle building which had been turned into a startup / community space, which was totally appropriate, right? But the folks in San Francisco thought we were too nice to the old incumbent media organizations. They wanted to know, why do you care about "reporting" and all these old dinosaurs? We're all about disrupting everything out here!
The Los Angeles part of the talk was in this amazing old movie screening room at Sony Studios. The folks in Los Angeles were mostly just like, "hey! Journalism! That's interesting! Thanks for remembering us!"
So what’s your take... Which is the more pressing problem at this point, adapting techniques of journalism to the digital age or finding a business model that can support journalism in the digital age?
Well, they are both obviously important. Maybe they are equally important. BUT ...
see the thing is, I'm a college professor at heart. And having a college professor temperament, I always try to get folks to think about the thing they may not be thinking about at that exact moment.
And so, I feel like the journalism industry is OBSESSED right now with the business model question. Which is fine. But I like to take that as a chance to remind folks: "hey, there are other things to worry about that go beyond the business model! Let's not forget why we got into this business in the first place."
That's the college prof. in me though ...
Interesting. So as a college professor and academic, you kind of take the long view on this, right? What has it been like to have a front row seat as the news industry underwent such dramatic change over the past ten years?
Being an academic studying an industry during undergoing an incredible change is really exciting, and really terrifying, all at the same time.
On the one hand, you can actually be relevant! Which is nice. I never feel like my research is so ivory tower or irrelevant that only three people in the world care what I have to say.
On the other hand-- being relevant is scary!! Sometimes, I am jealous of people who study ancient Egyptian history or the culture of pottery in the 3rd century BC, or whatnot. There are a lot of people who are actually paying attention to things what Jeff Jarvis, Jay Rosen, Emily Bell, Clay Shirky, etc, say, and they will call us out if they think we are wrong or missed part of the picture.
And journalists, especially, have no problem telling us when they disagree with some professorial thought we just blurted out ;-).
Which I like, honestly. Keeps you on your toes. Though you guys to scare me a little.
That's a great question Matt. I feel like we all brought different strengths to the essay. Emily obviously deeply understands how journalism works, in real life, and also the kind of skills journalism students need in the 21st century. So I took that from her.
Clay is an amazingly deep thinker, and really did a great job putting all these changes into perspective-- taking them beyond journalism. And he's a wonderful writer. I don't know if folks noticed the phrase in the report that when it comes to journalistic change "the presence of process is worse than the absence of money."
That was Clay's line. And I'd been saying that basic thing for years! But I never once said it that well.
As for what Clay and Emily might have taken from me, I hope they took something! I had a few ideas, I hope.
So you mentioned earlier that there was some overlap between your book and the essay. Could you expand on that a bit?
Sure, Davis. That's a great question.
I think the main overlap was me trying to get at this idea-- and its a complicated idea, in some ways-- that journalistic institutions are *simultaneously* really important to the future of news, but also are holding back a lot of the evolution and adaptation that the industry needs.
So big newsrooms, in other words-- they are so valuable, and so necessary. But they are also so frustrating.
If there's one thing I hope came out in the report and the book, it is that.
I loved how you put it in the book: "News networks do not appear out of nowhere, emerging from a digital swamp of news ecosystems in potentia." It seems like you still see newspapers like the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News playing a very central role in the news ecosystem?
Indeed I do. That was so surprising to me, actually.
When I started my research, I was definitely one of those "down with the old media" kind of folks. I had been blogging for years, and I was kind of an anti-institutionalist, in a lot of ways.
But as I learned more and more about journalism, and studied Philadelphia more and more, I realized how important those newsrooms were to the day to day functioning of journalism in Philly.