Professional journalism is too important to go away. There is plenty of room for discussion of what the new business model is going to be, and plenty of discussion of that. But there’s another interesting question implied here, and this is where I think additional focus is needed. Assuming a professional journalist class is needed, WHO are the professional journalists going to be? Does the training and culture of the J-schools actually create people well-suited for the emerging marketplace?
The existing news media are very much in the same position as book and music publishers are now, and as movie studios will be soon enough. Distribution costs, which used to dominate, are near zero. Therefore a corporate position controlling distribution is impossible; hence it is a matter of something other than capital to provide the filtering on what is and what isn’t worth attending to.
Few of the successful writers emerging from this process will be the ones who have been employed as journalists without establishing a personal brand. And as in music and book publishing, the long tail gets longer and fatter at the expense of the height of the short peak; it will be easier to make a supplementary income as a writer and harder to make a good living.
In the past, the people getting the sweet jobs have been the people playing by the rules of journalism, starting out covering apartment fires for the Podunk Register, as if that were a task that the person living across the street couldn’t do, and as if that were a task which prepared anyone for really digging into any complex story of civic importance.
The collapse of the barriers to entry works to the detriment of the person whose “expertise” is only in journalism, an expertise whose value to the news consumer has long been rather dubious and is becoming increasingly so.