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What’s the Future of Journalism in the Digital World?

By Dan Tynan, 20+ years as an ink and html-stained wretch for national publications. also: an excellent speller. Originally published on Quora.

Bleak?

Interestingly, journalism itself is experiencing quite a resurgence, at least in the US. You can thank the Orangutan-in-Chief for that. The Fourth Estate has totally upped its game since the election, reminding us all of the vital importance of a free press/media when staring fascism in the face. It might yet save us from Trumpageddon.

Unfortunately, the business models have not changed. So regardless of the fact that subscriptions to the digital NY Times are up (and probably also across the board for the major pubs, I assume), revenue models are not sustainable. News is too quickly commoditized; once a NY Times exclusive becomes public it’s turned into a third-rate rehash in GoodEnoughNews.com (don’t try clicking it, I just made that up), and the Times sees not one dollar of ad revenue or any significant referral traffic from that.

As far as I can tell, nobody has come up with a solution that truly works for turning digital news into profits. Paywalls, freemium/premium models, a la carte micropayments systems like Blendle — all are being tried, but I’ve yet to hear of one that solves this problem. Which leaves us all at the mercy of deep-pocketed benefactors (like Jeff Bezos, new owner of the Washington Post) and/or malefactors (Rupert Murdoch and whatever evil Cthulhu wannabees who run Breitbart, InfoWars, World News Daily, and their ilk).

So newspapers/sites are continuing to slash their staffs. Recently, a good friend of mine who has covered tech for one of the biggest US national newspapers just got cut after 17 years on the job. It’s just business, Fredo.

Fortunately for him, he got another journalism job at a well-known business magazine. But he’s one of the lucky ones. The staffers who just got laid off at Mashable, most of whom have far less experience, may find it a bit harder to land another journalism job and will likely end up doing something else (probably marketing or PR).

Then there are the robots. Companies like Narrative Science and Audience Insights are already using bots to churn out sports and financial stories for outlets like AP and the LA Times. Welcome to our new robotic overlords.

But you can’t do journalism without journalists, no matter how smart your AI is. At least, I hope you can’t.

Now I need a drink. Who’s buying?

By Dan Tynan, 20+ years as an ink and html-stained wretch for national publications. also: an excellent speller. Originally published on Quora.
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