There are many ways you can describe Journal Register Co CEO John Paton, but timid isn’t one of them. In the latest post on his blog, Digital First, he lays out his thinking about the way most organizations practice journalism:
As career journalists and managers we have entered a new era where what we know and what we traditionally do has finally found its value in the marketplace and that value is about zero.
His argument is that ‘the Crowd’ knows far more than journalists ever will, and that – in effect – it’s futile to compete against it. The best you can do – or rather, what news organizations should do – is to help make sense of what the Crowd says, by filtering and curating and integrating the Crowd into the news process.
There’s certainly some truth about how people have far more access to information, tools to analyze it, and freedom to publish it. But Paton’s view isn’t one that’s likely to be popular among journalists, and Alan Mutter wastes little time jumping on it. To be sure, some of their disagreement seems more semantic than serious, and Paton does make strong points about the need for embrace radical change if we’re to move ahead. But he goes further than that:
News now breaks Digitally both in its origin and creation by the audience using social media and spreads virally. To be in the news business now means you must run your business as Digital First. And that means Print Last.
Print Last because that is how this new world works.
Print is SLOW medium and digital is FAST. Atoms will never bit bits.
Each platform has an audience.
And each platform has a certain speed – Fast or Slow.
But catchy slogans and pithy quotes, while great in speeches, don’t provide real guidepaths to any digital promised land. Even if all this were true generally, it doesn’t rule out profitable niches where ‘the Crowd’ may not be willing to cough up all they know – say national security issues or political lobbying. And by defining speed as a – the – key characteristic of digital platforms, he overvalues the rush to publish over the persistent quality of information on the web. How often do we need to know something immediately versus wanting deeper, more contextual information when we need it?
Indeed, JRC’s single-minded focus on speed, crowd-sourcing and engagement – useful though they may be – recalls the debate over the faster-and-faster mantra that dominates discussion of journalism in the digital era.
It’s true people want to be told things that they don’t know; things that are new to them. But that doesn’t mean that it’s only – or mainly – news that’s valuable. And when we conflate new information with news, we misunderstand how we create and bring value to readers.