That statement was true enough when A.J. Liebling made it in 1960, but the world has changed a lot since that time. Printing presses have gone the way of, well, printing presses, and anyone who wants to publish pretty much can. But in many ways Liebling’s statement holds truer than ever.
So journalists – or newsrooms – don’t need a press anymore; but they need access to, and influence over, the means of production if they’re to have any meaningful say in what and how they publish and reach a community.
And that’s especially true in a digital age, where product, content, platform, format, business model are all much more blending into each other. If you don’t have a say in the means of production – and that means a say in the technology of the newsroom – that means, at some level, you don’t have a say in what you’re ultimately producing. About whether it serves the public interest. Or whether it makes money and you get paid.
In many ways, this is at the heart of the debate about whether newsrooms or IT departments should control developer resources. The answer, of course, is that both need to be involved: Newsrooms are generally bad at building industrial-scale, commercial technologies that can underpin a business; but they’re better at – or should be better at – understanding content and audience.
The Pulitzer-winning Politifact is a prime example of how starting with an idea for a news product changes the way content is created and presented, but there are tons of others. Yet many of them are built around the periphery of a newsroom’s CMS and publishing platform; the core of the operation is generally still geared towards creating stories and that day’s (or minute’s) news.
But it’s in exploring new types of content and new, non-advertising driven revenues that new business models – and new audiences – might be found. Plus where the new frontiers of journalism and information – such as data-driven journalism or automation – are to be explored.
At this year’s NICAR conference, Chase Davis and Matt Wynn hosted a spirited discussion of new monetization models based on data, including showing off their MyFault and Curbwise apps – neither a creation of a classic newsroom or its technology platform. True, no one is getting rich off those apps, as Chase and Matt freely admitted; but without that kind of experimentation, newsrooms are going to be stuck in legacy systems and ceding innovation to others.
No one’s suggesting, of course, that journalists should take over all technology development in media companies; that’s a much an issue as requiring all tech to be handled by the IT folks. And that ignores too, the role that business managers need to have in the creation of new news products.
But in an age where the means of production allows for much more – and much quicker – innovation and flexibility in how news products and content are created, and where the ecosystem of information is still evolving, freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own the means of production.