Posted by: structureofnews | June 17, 2011

The Value of New(s)

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.


  1. Reg,

    David Sullivan over at That’s the Press, Baby had an interesting take on this earlier this week in which he compares what Paton is saying to that of media analyst Robert Picard, and in particular a speech Picard made at Oxford in 2009. My personal opinion is that the Picard speech presents something of an inherent contradiction; what he seems to be saying is that, as the author of 25 non-fiction books and countless academic journal articles, his writing has value but that of your garden-variety journalist does not.

    Content, and journalism as a subset of content, does have value even if the perceived value sometimes approaches zero. I would argue that if journalism had no value it would be much harder for Apple to sell iPads, ATT wouldn’t sell as many data plans, and Google wouldn’t be making $25 billion per year on advertising. The preponderance of the existing problem, at least it seems to me, isn’t mostly related to actual or perceived content value, but instead a matter of monetization.

    At the risk of going off topic, it was interesting how the hazards of the faster-and-faster mantra found it’s way into the FCC’s recent report on the news business via the term “hamsterization.” Although the FCC has shown itself to be fairly inept about some things in the past, the report seems to have done a decent job of, if not offering clear guidelines on how to fix things, at least painting a methodical picture of the dimensions of the issues.


    • Perry,

      I think Picard had a pretty clear-headed view of what ails the industry, and very specifically, journalists. That’s not to say there aren’t inherent contradictions or particular niches where the analysis doesn’t apply. But it’s worth noting that Picard was also pretty skeptical that chasing a gazillion fads would turn into any kind of revenue stream.

      So I agree – information (or journalism) clearly has value. The problem is monetization, and more broadly, a sustainable business model. I’m pretty sure that ad revenues aren’t going to be a solution – or at least THE solution – and I do think we need to address cost issues as well, as well as long-term value/persistence of our work.

      In many ways, the debate over the Future of Journalism seems misplaced – over fads and slogans and ideology, when it should be about mission, business model and sustainability. But what do I know?


  2. […] written before about how our thinking of ourselves as being in the “news” business can get in the way of  […]

  3. […] 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. […]

  4. […] get no disagreement from me on that – I’ve written many times that fixating on news as what-just-happened not only underserves people who aren’t tied to the latest update of an event, but also […]

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