PRESENTED May 7, 2010
By Chris Daly
Good morning, folks. Thanks for coming.
First off, I want to point out that this is an educational presentation (at least
in intent) and so I will be sharing a lot of visual material, some of which is
not in the public domain.
I will not be revealing any military secrets, that’s for sure.
I have been asked to talk about the future, but that is not my field. I feel
much more confident talking about the past. So, what I propose to do today
is talk about the past in a way that might inform the future. I want to
examine the past to find those trends that have real momentum. Those are
the ones likely to shape the future of our field. And that is what should
inform our approach to journalism education.
I would like to begin in 1950 with the following proposition:
In 1950, all educated, affluent, influential Americans would have agreed that
there were four jewels in the crown of American journalism:
--A fourth was The New York Herald-Tribune, home of Walter Lippmann.
Those powerful people and the taste-makers would have agreed that life as
they knew it was essentially unthinkable without those institutions. Without
them, journalism would be weakened and the life of the nation would be
Poof! They’re all gone. (They were all gone by about 1970)
They are all on the great ash-heap of history.
They were all victims of what Joseph Schumpeter called “creative
destruction,” which takes place all the time in a dynamic, market economy.
I want to spend some time today looking at that very dynamic at play in the
field of journalism in America.
Along with all the years I spent in the field as a journalist, I have also had a
foot in another world – the academic study of history. It was my field in
college and in graduate school.
In the last 13 years or so, while I have had the privilege of teaching here at
BU, I have also had the pleasure of diving back into the study of history.
I want to talk today about my first great passion from the point of view of
my second great passion. I want to talk about journalism’s future based on
This, then, will a quick slice through some of the material I cover in much
greater detail in my book, Covering America (which has just cleared the peer
review process at UMass Press)
The period of convulsive change we are going through now in journalism is
not the first. And it will not be the last. In this condensed survey, we will see
some of the major changes on the way to the present.
10, 11, 12, 13, 14
--COLONIAL: in the print shop, the printer/editor produced a paper that
was weekly, local, independent, often polemical. Almost no reporting.
This is the version enshrined in the constitution.
QuickTimeª and a
are needed to see this picture.
Starting in 1833, newspaper editors begin making profound change.
Newspapers become a truly mass medium. Steam makes it possible to print
on the scale of tens of thousands in a single day.
New editors like Benjamin Day and – later – Hearst and Pulitzer – discover
It’s not business news or politics: it’s crime, scandal, sports, and services.
They are VERY profitable. They declare independence from political
parties. They build the big-city daily paper into a powerhouse of profit and
The Old Guard editors of 6-penny papers are, of course, appalled. They see
the end of civilization.
--“THE MEDIA” 1920s
In the 1920s, two major new forms arrive: radio
and the weekly news magazine. (TIME, 1923)
From this point on, the news business goes through another deep
New technologies – radio (and later TV)
New forms of ownership: the publicly traded stock corporation arrives in the
news business – via NBC, CBS, and TIME Inc.
The radio and magazines begin their long siege of the daily paper: the radio
wants the breaking news franchise (what just happened?)
The magazine wants the analytical franchise (what does it all mean?)
Over the next few decades, those news media proved very popular and
profitable. So much so that they became targets of regular businesses.
Which brings us to the rise of the BIG MEDIA.
Often headquartered in and around Times Square,
the big media grew dramatically in the late 20th century. Salaries rose,
expenses rose. Media companies became assets in a global market.
Media became fat and happy.
Their market capitalization reached a peak around 2000.
[This, incidentally, is the world many of us – journalism executives,
journalism professors, journalism critics – spent our working lives in and
therefore consider normal.]
AND THEN, POW !
The digital era arrives. Suddenly, news is digital. That is a simple statement
with a lot of implications.
1. Almost overnight, the value of the BIG 5 media companies cratered. By
2009, they were worth 10-20 % of their value at the start of the decade.
2. As in previous periods of deep change, there were predictions that the end
was near. People said that any idiot with a modem could get into the news
The future of news
Any idiot… … with a modem…
COULD BECOME A BLOGGER
AND THEREBY ENTER “THE MEDIA”
The digital revolution, which is still unfolding, has had a number of
impacts. I want to look at the major impacts next … and consider the
ramifications of each for journalism education.
--One Impact is in ECONOMICS: low barriers to entry; smashing of
monopolies. Loss of ads and subscriptions.
Internet threatens both sides of the DUAL REVENUE STREAM.
It is a commonplace to observe that the web has upset the traditional
business model. And it has.
--Circulation: people expect it to be FREE, so they don’t pay
--Ads: Craigslist stole classifieds; display ads migrate on-line.
And they are not coming back to their historic levels, no matter
how strong the economic recovery is.
We can also see another powerful trend – a trend that will support a
prediction. The shrinking of the giant transnational conglomerates. It’s the
late cretaceous period, and these big dinosaurs have been struck by the
asteroid. They are still lumbering around, but their day has passed. So, it
makes sense to think that our students are not likely to do what many of us
did: burrow into some giant company as a full-time employee with health
benefits. More and more, our students will be self-employed, they will work
for start-ups, or they will patch together a series of improvised arrangements.
So, here is one ramification for us:
It would behoove us to teach them something about starting and running a
Entrepreneurial journalism. This can be taught in a cross-disciplinary way
--A second impact of the digital revolution involves TECHNOLOGY:
The digital technologies really change the game. For one thing, they bring us
A look at four home pages is indicative. Look at the home pages for NPR,
NYTimes, TIME, and CNN. All four feature stories, still photos, video,
This points up another new reality:
On-line news means that essentially ALL news organizations compete
against ALL other news organizations ALL the time. NPR and TIME
magazine are not really in different fields anymore. It’s a war of each against
The digital revolution has also brought us backpack journalism; breakdown
of older division of labor and guild lines.
Here is the ramification that I see:
Our students need at least a fluency in the new media, across platforms.
--Finally, the internet has had another impact on the news media – one that
is more profound still and yet to be fully grasped. That is, the web has
shattered the old way of thinking about news delivery.
The old model is broken. And, like Humpty Dumpty, it cannot be put back
During the 20th century, we got used to the idea that the news arrived as a
finished product. And it arrived at fixed times of day. Whether it was the
morning newspaper or an evening newscast on TV. It was presented on a
take-it-or-leave-it basis. It was a bundle of the staples of news: politics,
disasters, business, sports, and weather.
What the internet does is serve all of those a-la-carte. It deconstructs the
bundle. And it does so on the user’s timetable and at the user’s level of
You know that if there is a topic you are really knowledgeable and
passionate about, you can find excellent coverage on the Web. If you want to
find out what’s going on in Afghanistan, you might turn to the Times. But if
you want sports, you will jump to Bill Simmons or ESPN. If you want to
keep up with national politics, you will click on Politico or 538. If you want
news about your neighborhood, you will find a hyper-local site. Better
Crosswords, chess columns, you name it.
Instead of a PRETTY GOOD version in a fixed bundle, anyone can now
find a superior form of coverage, unbundled, constantly updated, available
on demand…. And usually FREE!
The question is: if the printed daily newspaper or the evening newscast did
not exist today, would it make any sense to invent it?
So, the fixed bundle is over, and here is the ramification for journalism
It means the end of the heyday – not the end – of the old-fashioned
generalist journalist who doesn’t really know anything but can jump from
beat to beat. Such a journalist uses wits, energy, and technique to cover an
election or an oil spill or a horserace. I think it’s quite likely that following
the trend toward specialization, depth, and extreme expertise found on the
Web, that our students will need to have mastery over content. They will
have to know something. They will need, possibly, to be experts themselves.
Certainly, they will need depth of knowledge and the tools to acquire
knowledge on their own. Thus, we need to ramp up our offerings of content.
Those are some of the major trends that I see driving change for the
foreseeable near term.
As I said earlier, the future is not my field.
But, of course, I am not making plans for the past. I am trying to make plans
for the future. And I hope to think about the future in a way that is informed
by the past. My study of history yields three results:
--Skepticism: Is something really unprecedented? Is this really the end of
journalism? (After so many previous pronouncements, it’s hard to get too
--Equanimity. When one thing passes, another takes it place.
--Humility. (If there’s a “lesson” to history, it is that life is complicated and
that things rarely turn out the way people intend)
So don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. we also have to think about
what we are doing right and what needs to be preserved.
--ONE IS THE ABILITY TO TELL A STORY. NARRATIVE – this is a
powerful literary device, an art form, and an organizing principle.
--ETHICS AND VALUES ( like INDEPENDENCE AND SKEPTICISM)
-- RESEARCH AND A DISCIPLINE OF VERIFICATION.
Finally, Let’s return to the theme of “creative destruction.” Let’s focus for a
minute on the creative end of Schumpeter’s famous formulation
I AM OPTIMISTIC.
I see a more nimble, flexible, entrepreneurial future for journalism.
IN FACT, The future is here:
It is TPM, it is Yahoo News, it is 538, it is Wikilieaks.
The future of journalism is making money, and it is hiring.
Digital Natives: Daily Kos, Instapundit, Huff Post – they were born on-line
and have no existence in any other medium. They have no big pension
obligations; they have no legacy costs like printing presses and fleets of
trucks. They are lean and so they can make money as soon as a little bit of
money starts coming in from on-line advertising. Some of these sites exist
on sums that used to be rounding errors inside Time-Warner.
The most important might be: Talking Points Memo.
Because TPM makes money. It makes enough money to hire
professional journalists. It has a newsroom in NYC and one in Washington
and close to a dozen reporters.
TPM was founded by Joshua Micah Marshall in November 2000, in
order to comment on the recount of the votes in Florida in the presidential
In Feb., 2008, he won a George Polk Award for his coverage of the
way the Bush administration went about firing 8 federal prosecutors.
He’s no idiot with a modem. In fact, he has a PhD.
Oh, yes, his PhD is in history.
[Meta-point: I am closing this presentation with an image of a smiling,
forward-looking, money-making serious journalist/blogger, and over his
shoulder are reporters who have jobs. -- CBD]
I’d be happy to take questions.