The basis for their question is the recent spate of layoffs at ‘zines like Salon (a personal favorite), and the near-universal lack of profits at big name, big-media sites like Microsoft’s Slate, CNN.com, Disney/ABC’s Go network, etc. But I think the author misses the point entirely. Online journalism is far from dead, and there’s no reason to ask the question. Instead, a better question is: “Is Big Media Online Journalism Dead?” My answer is a decided “maybe.” If the fact that these big media ventures aren’t making money off the web means that their dead or dying, then I guess the answer leans towards “yes.”
Still, this does not represent online journalism as a whole. As commentator after commentator has pointed out relentlessly, the web offers a new paradigm for publishing and newsmaking. Yet, there is the similarly relentless effort to force “old-media” paradigms onto the web–of which the aforementioned sites are examples–meeting with commensurately relentless failure. And yet there is still plenty of news, commentary and content on the web. Even if we exclude the online subsidiaries of the big news agencies like the New York Times, there are an uncountable number of sites and organizations offering up news and information taking advantage of the new paradigms offered by the Internet rather than trying to fight them.
Indeed, that is the very point of this here mediageek site. And yet, mediageek.org right now is just one guy’s take on the world. Other approaches, like the Indymedia movement, take full advantage of the distributed nature of the ‘net, asking any site visitor to post news, reports, commentaries and announcements to the site, all of which may be commented upon. Periodically a few are selected to be front page features, sometimes combining several separate reports on similar topics or events. Another similar approach is used by Slashdot, which only posts stories chosen by the sites editors, but thrives on the ability for site visitors to comment on and discuss these stories. Sure, these sites don’t make any money, but they don’t cost much to run either. And that’s not the point.
The point is that information and news is there to be exchanged, and that this is more important than profit. In the broadcast world, the ABCs and CNNs rule the roost because the costs of setting up shot require their enormous capital resrouces. The same is typically true of newspapers. But this is not true for the Internet. It is true that if you want a staff of full-time writers and well known commentators you will need some pretty decent capital. And yet these are not necessary to report news and information–they’re only necessary if you want to do it the old way.
The Post’s article makes clear that the mainstream media still don’t get it–to them success equals profits, and lack of profit means failure. This sort of analysis is utterly ignorant of the actual impact and effect of the information on readers, and even more ignorant of what readers choose to do with that information (unless that information makes them buy something). Internet users already pay to be online; investments in computers and internet access, not to mention time to be online, are not insignificant. No wonder, then, they’re rarely interested in paying much more for content. Yet, they are willing to submit content–frequently very good content–for free. The only payment being the privilege of having a forum, the ability to have their work read and used. It may seem foolish to someone accustomed to being paid handsomely for her work, but this is not most writers nor most people. Most people have to work very hard just to get their work read by more than a few people–getting paid is even harder.
Quite securely, online journalism is not dead. It has changed, and will continue to change. I think, for the better. For me, it’s actually reassuring to see that the mainstream media’s attempt to dominate the web like they dominate print and broadcast media has not been nearly as successful as they hoped. Still, sites like CNN.com do rack up millions of hits a month, which is much harder to do with a grassroots site like this one, which racks up only about 500 hits a month. So, the mainstream media oligopoly still wields power and weight on the net, although they don’t enjoy the same oligopoly status. I hope they’re getting discouraged and perhaps we can have more of the ‘net back.