Thursday, April 20, 2006

Blogging and the Fate of Journalism: Do We Really Need Worry?

While Alan Meckler and Jason Calacanis mix it up in a WSJ Online "Reply All" online debate on whether bloggers can make money (answer: some do and will, more could) Phil Hall in a Media Industry Newsletter commentary punctuates the debate with a commentary on how the traditional career paths of young journalists only accelerate the rate at which writing talent is lured into online niches far away from traditional publications. Phil charts the fate of poorly paid J-School grads who wind up at a trade journal trying to cover niches that they know little or nothing about and then having to make choices between paying the rent and staying a reporter. It's nothing that any journalist hasn't been through before, but the publications that they work for are now paying the price of having relied on sub-grade reporting while attractive online alternatives developed before their eyes. The key benefit that weblogging has brought to journalism is that subject matter experts no longer have to wait to be interviewed to get their views out in the press: they can just punch them in and join the online publication world. As more trade journals add their own weblogs (see today's Accountancy Age announcement) the niches for young journalists to ply are likely to become even more narrow within the traditional trade and consumer media world. Add in the wide availability of corporate press releases on the Web and the rationale for traditional trade journalism becomes more narrow yet.

This is not necessarily a bad thing: the remaining journalists are likely to be left with assignments that are more worthy of the craft and develop their skills through a wider variety of outlets, including weblogs. But with all the world a-blogging, perhaps the greater question is why journalism schools are still little coddled enclaves churning out grads for a job market that no longer exists. Perhaps it would be better to include journalism skills adapted to the online era as a part of regular university curricula, so that subject matter experts can be better prepared to write to their colleagues in an online world of publishing that favors trusted peers as sources of news and insight at least as much as traditional journalism. We're entering a world in which being able to communicate with audiences online is becoming a fundamental job skill. Perhaps not everyone will churn out prose worthy of a major journal or newspaper, but the ability to communicate through writing is only going to increase the general need for journalism skills - even as specialists begin to fade into niche roles.
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