Knight Center
Knight Center


The ad-based journalism industry is dead, says Columbia University in new essay

pijournalism-coverThe cover of the Tow Center report. Source:

The Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia University released a no-holds-barred essay on the state of journalism in the United States on Tuesday, Nov. 27. The report cum “manifesto,” Post-Industrial Journalism: Adapting to the Present, argues that nothing can save the industry’s advertising-based model and reporters and institutions need to restructure in order to take advantage of new ways of doing journalism.

“Post-industrial journalism assumes that the existing institutions are going to lose revenue and market share, and that if they hope to retain of even increase their relevance, they will have to take advantage of new working methods and processes afforded by digital media,” the authors write.

C.W. Anderson, Emily Bell and Clay Shirky say that shocks brought on from leaps in technology and the Internet have created an “ecosystem” where “news organizations are no longer in control of the news […] and that the heightened degree of public agency by citizens, governments, businesses and even loosely affiliated networks is a permanent change, to which news organizations must adapt.”

Part of this adaptation is moving away from a news industry built around physical infrastructure (printing presses, television broadcast towers, etc.) and towards a more decentralized, post-industrial system of newsgathering.

Read the full report here.

Anderson, Bell and Shirky divide their essay between the changing roles of journalists, institutions and the news ecosystem.

Journalists will need a bevy of new skills to remain relevant in the new news ecosystem, the essay said.

“In a networked world, the ability to inform, entertain and respond to feedback intelligently is a journalistic skill,” according to the report. This means that post-industrial journalists need to leverage their “charisma” to build a following on social networks like Twitter while rooting their reputation in accountability and integrity.

“Working between the crowd and the algorithm in the information ecosystem is where a journalist is able to have the most effect,” the report said.

Post-industrial journalists will be expected to have specialized knowledge and greater technical aptitude than traditional reporters. “These skills can be summarized as an ability to recognize, rather, evaluate and display new forms of journalistic evidence,” described the report. These new forms of evidence include data sets, tweets, and amateur video.

Perhaps the biggest hurdle for journalists today is the data literacy and coding experience the Tow Center report advocates. Pushback against the prominence of Nate Silver’s 538 blog in political reporting during the 2012 election highlighted many established journalists’ unfamiliarity with basic statistical concepts and the power of big data.

News institutions will be smaller, predicted the report, and need to “do more with less.” Part of this will mean leveraging the “people formerly known as the audience,” to use Jay Rosen’s term, to practice journalism on a local and massive scale. The Tow Center report highlighted ProPublica’s Free the Files project as successful examples of crowdsourcing with local accountability in mind.

Networked video cameras on cell phones have made amateurs the go-to source for on the scene information when disasters strike or major events unfold. The report argues that while reporters are no longer the immediate source of these images, it is now their job to filter that information and provide context and meaning beyond reporting just the facts.

The report also chronicles the collapse of the brand advertising-based business model, criticizes the notion that large for-profit businesses are aligned with the values of journalism, and explore the shifting definition of the “public” that hard news is supposed to serve, among other topics.


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