Back in the ’90s I recall getting out in the community and talking to various groups and making the comment, "Freedom of the press belongs to he who owns one, but these days the press no longer costs hundreds of millions of dollars, but a mere $2,000 — a computer."
Today that seems downright prophetic, or merely a statement of the obvious, as various scribblers embrace the World Wide
Web as their sole platform. But it is not just the platform that is shaking things up, but the economic model of newsgathering and dissemination.
With the bankruptcy of the Tribune Company — owner of more than a dozen major newspapers, including the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times — and the financial woes of many other media companies, combined with the announcement that the Detroit newspapers will be delivered to homes only three days a week and appear online the rest of the week, reporters and editors may be forgiven for feeling like journalistic Joads fleeing a mass media dust bowl.
This metaphor came to mind as I was scanning my Twitter traffic — that’s a blog in a really big hurry — and found a posting by NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen, at right, who I met at a recent conference on online journalism. His tweet pointed to a summer ponder titled: "Migration Point for the Press Tribe."
Rosen’s blog suggested:
Migration-which is easily sentimentalized by Americans—is a community trauma. Pulling up stakes and leaving a familiar place is hard. Within the news tribe some people don’t want to go. These are the newsroom curmudgeons, a reactionary group. Others are in denial still, or they are quietly drifting away from journalism. Many are being shed as the tribe contracts and its economy convulses. A few are admitting that it’s time to panic.
And like reluctant migrants everywhere, the people in the news tribe have to decide what to take with them, when to leave, where to land. They have to figure out what is essential to their way of life, and which parts were well adapted to the old world but may be unnecessary or a handicap in the new. They have to ask if what they know is portable. What life will be like across the digital sea is of course an unknown to the migrant. This creates an immediate crisis for the elders of the tribe, who have always known how to live.
I’m not sure either he or I know the path forward.