We're talking about Michael Arrington's article on TechCrunch, 'The End Of Hand Crafted Content', which by now has received 350 comments and, according to Topsy.com, was retweeted 1246 times.
For one, "disintermediation" and "sources going direct" imply that one
no longer needs to be part of a news organization – the news industry –
to conduct and share acts of journalism. We really are witnessing a
revolution, with the means of production changing hands.
For another, the social web, particularly the blogosphere and the
real-time web, appear to appreciate personal perspectives just as much
as "objective reporting". This seems like an opportunity for
individuals, including the "excellent journalists" that you mention, to
build their personal brands.
Furthermore, I expect that journalists will be increasingly compelled
to go solo if their news organizations keep hanging on to their model
of "lecturing" rather than facilitating conversation.
Some freelancers have always been successful at franchising their personal brand across various channels and publications.
The Demonic Verses
Having said all that, the other interesting point that Mike Arrington made has to do with the advent of highly automated,
"fast food" content production.
Demand Media immediately brought to my mind the animated video "EPIC 2015" (the Evolving Personal Information Construct), in which GoogleZon operates in a rather similar fashion and the New York Times finally goes off-line to continue as an elite newspaper for the rich and the elderly.
Yet, personally, I am not so afraid of this type of spam. As Doc Searls wrote:
"(…) Just as an aside, I’ve been hand-crafting (actually just typing) my “content”
for about twenty years now, and I haven’t been destroyed by a damn
thing. I kinda don’t think FFC is going to shut down serious writers
(no matter where and how they write) any more than McDonald’s killed
the market for serious chefs. (…)"
The web has always challenged us to distill signal from noise. The vast
majority of content on Twitter, for example, is of no consequence to
most of us.
If anything, should spammy businesses like Demand Media succeed in
gaming the major search engines (which I doubt), it would only boost
our reliance on social filters: if I know you and you have read
something that you'd like to share (and possibly discuss) with me, I'd
probably be interested and trust that it's not spam. We are already
relying more and more on human filters this way.
The business model is still up in the air
The big question remains, how is "excellent journalism" going to be
paid for in the future? Jeff Jarvis is exploring possible answers within the 'New Business Models for News' program at the City University of New York's CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.
Nikki Usher contends that the business model for news has always been broken – which, in my view, seems to imply that news provision may have to be subsidized. Looking at it
that way, Arrington may be right in suggesting that for some, the only
way to keep publishing may be pro bono.
Perhaps if we made a distinction between b2b and b2c journalism?
The revenue model for b2c journalism relies on sales and advertising.
Selling journalistic content to consumers seems an increasingly
difficult proposition. And on the flip side, Dave Winer sheds some doubt on the future of advertising as well, in Rebooting the News #35:
"(…) advertising itself may go away. “In a way an ad is a query… They try to
guess as to what I’m interested in. And the better they guess, the more
it becomes information." (…)"
The revenue model for b2b journalism is a content model. Businesses
will always be willing to pay for timely and/or exclusive information
as long as it's an essential part of their supply chain. The potential customer segment here is not limited to the media.
But what then, if the customer is not a media organisation? Let's say it's a mobile phone producer, or an insurance company instead. If journalists were to supply them with information which has been researched and packaged exactly as if it were supplied to the media, would we still call it journalism?