Starkman: Future-of-news consensus is wrong

Columbia Journalism Review

Dean Starkman synthesizes what he calls "the future-of-news (FON) consensus" in the ideas of Jeff Jarvis, Clay Shirky and Jay Rosen. The FON consensus, Starkman says, is that journalism's future will be network-driven -- that is, information will be collected and distributed by dispersed people who are actively involved in a journalistic process -- and even anti-institutional.

And let’s face it, in the debate over journalism’s future, the FON crowd has had the upper hand. The establishment is gloomy and old; the FON consensus is hopeful and young (or purports to represent youth). The establishment has no plan. The FON consensus says no plan is the plan. The establishment drones on about rules and standards; the FON thinkers talk about freedom and informality. FON says “cheap” and “free”; the establishment asks for your credit card number. FON talks about “networks,” “communities,” and “love”; the establishment mutters about “institutions,” like The New York Times or mental hospitals. ...

Starkman disagrees, though, with the FON consensus -- especially the idea that journalism will be de-institutionalized.

I’m going to make a bold leap and predict—eenie meenie chili beanie—that for a long time the Future of News is going to look unnervingly like the Present of News: hobbled news organizations, limping along, supplemented by swarms of new media outlets doing their best. It’s not sexy, but that’s journalism for you. I’ll go further and posit as axiomatic that journalism needs its own institutions for the simple reason that it reports on institutions much larger than itself. ...

Whether it be called The New York Times or the Digital Beagle, we must have organizations with talent, traditions, culture, bureaucrats, geniuses, monomaniacs, lawyers, health plans, marketing divisions, and ad salespeople—and they must have the clout to take on the likes of Goldman Sachs, the White House, and local political bosses. The public needs them, and it will have them.

Starkman's proposal is to combine a network-powered approach with an institution-centric one, a model he draws from how The Guardian broke and advanced the story of News of the World hacking. "Since buzzwords are the coin of the FON realm, I’ll call it the Neo-Institutional Hub-and-Spoke Model," Starkman writes.



Finally, he says, "it’s time for journalism thinkers to turn to the real task: how to re-empower reporters, the backbone of journalism, whoever they are, wherever they may work, in whatever medium, within institutions that can move the needle."



Related: 50 years of journalism through CJR's archives

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