FTC Steps in on Citizen Journalism, Internet, and Impacts on the News Industry

A couple months ago we explored citizen journalism and how that is changing the way we access news. From an industry that is largely dependent on advertising revenues to subsidize professional journalists and delivery of news and information, to a communication platform that that allows anybody with a keyboard and Internet connection to post their interpretation of events to a global audience, the news world has changed.

The players:

Traditional News and Information Sources

  • News papers
  • Periodicals
  • Broadcast news
  • Cable Television

New Media News and Information Sources

  • Bloggers
  • Ezines
  • Webcams
  • Online websites for traditional media outlets

The second category of news and information sources are mostly free from the cost of subscription, other than Internet access charges. In addition, Internet-enabled news sources are available by merely logging into the internet and the news source website. From anywhere that is not restricted from accessing news via the Internet, or that controls access to the Internet. About 1% of the global wired population.

The result of citizen journalism and Internet-enabled traditional sources is mainly in advertising revenue losses by traditional news publications. Subscription fees have never been the prime source of revenue for traditional printed media, it has always been the revenues produced from advertising.

As the world continues to move their primary access to news sources from broadcast television and printed news media to cable TV and the Internet, those advertising sources are quickly drying up.

The Federal Trade Commission/FTC Tries to Help

On August 17th the FTC announced in December it will begin a series of workshops entitled “From Town Criers to Bloggers: How Will Journalism Survive the Internet Age?” The purpose of the workshops is to:

“bring competition, consumer protection, and First Amendment perspectives to bear on the financial, technological, and other challenges facing the news industry as consumers increasingly turn to the Internet for free news and information, advertisers increasingly move their ads onto online sites and reduce advertising buys as a result of the recession, and news organizations struggle with large debt that was taken on when times were better.”

The FTC does acknowledge the shift from print to Internet, and simply wants to ensure that traditional media companies understand the realities of the shift to new media formats. The FTC also wants to ensure at the same time copyrights are protected, and fair business practices are maintained while media companies either deal with new media, or make the decision to drop out of their businesses.

Reality Hurts, But there are Realities to Consider

Several Realities to List

  • Anybody with a keyboard and a free website can post “news”
  • The Internet is ubiquitous (available just about everywhere, to everybody)
  • Censorship and control of information is almost impossible
  • Citizens do not need editorial guidance or management to post stories, blogs, photos, or anything else
  • Citizens can provide a snapshot in time, but rarely have the contacts, experience, or time to do an exhaustive check on stories or facts
  • People still want to read the LA Times or Huffington Post, even if it is only online access (and they want to read from anyplace in the world)
  • Microblogging (Twitter) supports immediate notification of events to a nearly unlimited number of recipients via email, web access, SMS Messaging, or even voice notification

Blogs do have their place. Without blogs, email, and immediate posting of real time events, we may have never learned what really happened during the recent Iran elections. We might never know what happens when an event occurs in China, a fire is approaching Santa Barbara, a storm swell is threatening Miami Beach – or any other kind of news important to those who may be impacted or are interested in the topic.

Back to the Topic

In most cases we try to offer a recommendation on what to do when identifying a problem. A good editorial goes further than simply presenting a story or fact (like a good journalist may do!). In this case I have to admit I do now have the answers or a recommendation. I don’t know how to advise a newspaper on the verge of collapse how to deal with people like myself who are happy to offer editorials, news, and reviews of events or complex topics.

In a previous article we quoted David Simon, former reporter for the Baltimore Sun and producer of HBO’s series “The Wire,” as stating “if you do not charge for a product, the product has no value.” If this is true, then the news industry needs to sit back and fully study and understand the dynamics of the Internet, citizen journalism, blogging, and global ubiquitous access to new via the Internet, and then come up with a plan to help it survive through to the next century.

Throughout history we have gone from story tellers traveling and telling their rendition of events in faraway places, to cave inscriptions telling a story of events, to town criers, to newspapers, to television, and now the Internet. Change happens, and change in the media industry is good for the consumers of their news product. And change requires us to find new ways of funding and compensation for the producers and carriers of news.

Time for a trip to the white board

John Savageau, Long Beach

About johnsavageau
Another telecom junkie who has been bouncing around the international communications community for most of the past 35 years.

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