Twitter Thread - The end of the MSM and its aftermath

Bloggers like to talk about how nasty the Main Stream Media is (I'm looking at you physioprof). And although I agree that there are MANY problems, I think that the fifth estate makes a real contribution to our public discourse.

Now unlike what others have written, I am not talking about science journalism, a branch of that discipline mostly filled with dilettantes who write trite articles about their misconceptions about the latest research, or the opinion of political pundits (Washington insiders who spin any and every bit of news into some pro-ideology narrative), but the real news produced mostly by the print media. I'm talking aout events such as the elections in Zimbabwe, the war in Afghanistan, the political conflict between Pakistan and India, and the wild fires spreading outside of Melbourne. This is why outfits like the BBC, the CBC and (gasp) the New York Times are needed. Someone needs to finance these reporters. Sure you can get information about wild fires from Australia's ABC, but who will send a reporter to Afghanistan? Yes I understand that there are other sources of information (such as blogs) but how do you know who to trust? (Especially when you don't have the time?)

So why are they dieing?


The print media is on life support. Lower revenue from ads (push down by the over supply of ad space on the internet), the extinction of the classified sections (again killed off by EBay and Craig's List) and lower subscription rates. Potential readers are instead being drawn to the plethora of free "news" be it through 24hr news channels, free low content papers like the Metro, or no-fee internet news sites - many operated by MSM.

Having said all that, I'll just post a recent tread from twitter (including some links).

From twitter:

BoraZ: Why Newspapers Must Die

ribonucleicacid: @BoraZ Although they have their problems, the death of newspapers will kill off professional journalism. That is dangerous for us all.

philipj: @BoraZ @ribonucleicacid I don't see great things for traditional print media, but that level of professionalism is very lacking on the net.

BoraZ: @philipj @ribonucleicacid Newspapers does not equal news. Death of the former does not mean death of the latter. Paper is dead.

BoraZ: @philipj @ribonucleicacid Professionals will do it - on the Web. Ink, paper and trucks are too expensive and slow for 21st century.

BoraZ: @philipj @ribonucleicacid Remember blogs arose because corporate media lost all the trust - there will be a new professionalism and ethics.

BoraZ: @philipj @ribonucleicacid I am worried that the new model will arise after instead of before newspapers die, as means to fill up the vacuum.

BoraZ: @BoraZ And some newspapers are 'getting it' and moving in the right direction - away from paper to the Web, changing the form/format/ethics.

BoraZ: When I see news on MSM I check with trusted bloggers if the news is to be believed. Trusted bloggers? Takes time and work to find out who.

BoraZ: @BoraZ More here:

philipj: @BoraZ I don't follow newsmedia in the US, but I find the CBC in Canada is reasonably sensible.

BoraZ: @philipj My observations are, out of necessity, of the US press. Serbian press under Milosevic taught me where to look and how.

BoraZ: Incendiary weekend post on bloggers vs. journalists

BoraZ: Why good science journalists are rare?

ribonucleicacid: @BoraZ If newspapers die, money for quality professional journalism dies. No money, no professionals.

ribonucleicacid: @BoraZ Also I'm not convinced about, "the get to know your blogger" strategy. I barely have enough time to update my own blog.

ribonucleicacid: @BoraZ Lastly, most people who read blogs go for the fluff. As for the non fluff, 99% of that is just an echo of the MSM.

BoraZ: @ribonucleicacid

ribonucleicacid: @BoraZ With the downfall of the MSM comes the end of financed journalism - who will fund the profession of journalism in the era of blogs?

BoraZ: @ribonucleicacid That is the 32000 question. If I knew the answer, I'd be building my media empire right now.

And this is why I worry about the state of affairs. Do you think that blogs will replace professional journalism? No way, there is no good financial model. It takes a lot of resources to operate a foreign bureau or to send reporters out on the field.

Can the print media recoup their losses through online ad revenues? If they were, I wouldn't be writing this post. Perhaps the only way that professional journalism news survive is by state sponsored news. As scary as that sounds (especially to my paranoid American friends) right now of the news sources I trust the most, two are financed in part by national governments (the BBC by the UK and the CBC by the Canadian Government). So perhaps this is the unlikely answer.


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Blogs will not replace professional journalism, nor do bloggers want to do it. But what will fill the vacuum once all the newspapers fold?

On another note: if there are breaking news abroad, e.g., in a country like Afghanistan, I trust the local reporters, heck even the local accidental twitterers, better than NYT, BBC and CDC together. I saw them, for ten years, how they covered the Balkans, and every word was a lie. If they like about D.C., why do you think they are accurate about Darfur?


Hey Alex and Bora,
I was watching the discussion on Twitter - interesting thoughts. I suspect though that reality will end up somewhere between your two perspectives. The best professional journalists will survive, one way or another. But we'll lose a generation of good journalists though with the dropoff in $$$ for MSM.

That's just my guess though...

Do check our SciBling David Dobbs' views as well in his recent posts.

Meanwhile, over at the Weekly Sift, Walter Isaacson, former Time editor is quoted

good journalism require[s] that a publication's primary duty be to its readers, not to its advertisers. In an advertising-only revenue model, the incentive is perverse.

In other words: Free content isn't really free. When a newspaper survives because you pay for it, the journalists work for you. But when the paper survives by advertising, they work on you and for the advertisers. Instead of trading your money for the news, you're offering advertisers a chance to exploit and manipulate you.

As Joe Bob Briggs might say, "I'm surprised I have to explain these things."

By Matt Platte (not verified) on 09 Feb 2009 #permalink

Oh, Isaakson article raised a sh*tstorm everywhere, people fisked that article and laughed at him left and right. Google it.

A novel proposal. Perhaps journalism grants from the Canada Council?

But one problem with the idea of government-funded media is that it doesn't get adequate support as is. The CBC has had plenty of layoffs and programming cutbacks.

On another note: if there are breaking news abroad, e.g., in a country like Afghanistan, I trust the local reporters, heck even the local accidental twitterers, better than NYT, BBC and CDC together. I saw them, for ten years, how they covered the Balkans, and every word was a lie.

Look the problem is trust. How do I know which "local reporter" or twit to trust? News organizations have some reputation that they hope to retain. Whether they do so is another question, but at least the NYT and BBC have some sort of track record and we can criticize them in forums like this (i.e. a blog post). They package information in such a way that can fit into my schedule. Do I have the time to hunt for news on the net? Do I have the patience to sift through all the local reports to figure out what's happening in Afghanistan?

I fear that a lack of standards and a lack of professionalism will inevitably lead to the erosion of quality news reporting that is easily accessible for the lay person.

This week, I have been reading Nick Davies's book, Flat Earth News, which presents a generally convincing case that journalism is already dead, replaced by "churnalism", even at "respectable" places like the BBC. Crippling cuts mean that journalists just don't have the time or resources to do their jobs properly, foreign bureau have disappeared, and most (at best 60%, at worst >90%) of what we read is just rewrites from PA and Reuters, who are themselves chronically understaffed and under-resourced, and have strict policies of he-said-she-said journalism. Most of the reports from the newswires are themselves just rewrites of press releases.

Those of us with a science background can verify that the "churnalism" theory is true for the vast majority of science "news": it is mostly badly repackaged press releases and quirky wire stories. I can easily believe that is also so for the "journalism" that comes out of Afghanistan.

Bora et alia:

Bora, you said in the twitter stream that there would be no professional journalists, it would be done on the side (you used another expression but I believe that gets the gist) by others who make a living in some other way. With all due respect, I think that underestimates what the work requires and entails. Yes, such on-the-side efforts can replace a lot of analysis and quite a bit of reporting. But good veteran journalists, esp in difficult areas like politics, econ, medicine, and science, have developed skillsets and networks that I just don't see getting replaced by people who aren't devoting lots of time (and previous years) to it.

I could be wrong, and I'm obviously biased in this. But I think it's overly optimistic to think we can lose all of professional journalism and not lose something important. If you're saying we'll lose much of it and the best that remain can supply much of the value we get out of prof journos, now -- I'm (sort of) fine with that. But to be matter-of-fact about losing all professional journalists, both off and online -- that's troubling to me as a citizen and reader.

Am I misreading you, or are you overstating your case for rhetorical purposes (a legit enough tactic in its place, even if it risks brewing misunderstanding).

Dept of D'oh! realized right after I posted the above I'm not on Bora's blog. Well, still applies ...

Dave "Went Too Fast to the Comments Section" Dobbs