The future of journalism is good despite the dislocations caused by the Internet, says veteran newspaper editor George Brock.
Journalism is like any other industry and has to adjust to changes in the market and advances in technology, says Brock, Professor and Head of the Department of Journalism at City University London. He is confident the industry will make the adjustment.
“I am entirely optimistic about journalism”, he said. “It will be fine. The initial worry about the impact the Internet was going to have … it’s not a problem anymore. The issue isn’t whether or not words are going to survive, it’s how they are going to survive, and then how to build and manage the abundance of them the Web is producing”.
Brock, who served as European editor, managing editor and international editor at different times during his 28-year career at The Times of London, spoke at the Journalism and Media Studies Centre of The University of Hong Kong last month.
He said the Internet has given new power to a journalist’s words. However, it is important for news outlets to concentrate on the strengths of journalism, such as investigating, verifying, and making sense of information, he said, while adapting them to new mediums like blogs and social media.
He said web sites like Talking Points Memo, which covers American politics, have had to change their approach to conform to on-line reading habits and the limitations of some digital devices. Instead of in-depth articles and front page news stories, Talking Points Memo produces short posts often no more than three paragraphs long to be consumed quickly on the Web and mobile devices.
He said a new business model might be coming into play as the Web matures. The web site Buzzfeed, for example, has built an audience since 2006 by focusing on lightweight content that can be consumed in a matter of seconds, such as jokes and videos of cats. But last year the site began to hire editors with backgrounds in political and investigative reporting, with the idea of expanding the site into long form journalism.
Brock said this model – providing frivolous content first, then adding serious content later – might become a standard for media in the future.
“Journalism has always had to realign itself and readjust and find its feet in a new position”, he said. “That’s been the history of the industry. It is very easy to lose sight of the fact that there have been ups and downs and breakdowns since the beginning. There has never been a long upward golden road for journalism”.
The decline in the circulation of national newspapers over the past ten years indicates the collapse of one business model, but the industry is responding with a replacement, he said. “Decay and reinvention and growth is the story of the journalism”.