Global warming has accelerated the melting –Â scientists sayÂ calving –Â of glaciers. With traditional mediaÂ undergoing aÂ similar meltdown — with the WebÂ cast inÂ the role of greenhouse gasses –Â mainstream journalists are also leaving the herd for greener pastures.Â One recent example is the defection of two Washington Post political experts whoÂ areÂ trading their cubicles of power — with financial backing from a television news magnateÂ — to form the nucleus ofÂ a media startup that sounds like a tradeÂ publication for politics.
Â Editor & Publisher, the glossy voice of the newspaper industry put it this way:
“National political editor John HarrisÂ . . . Â and top reporter Jim VandeHei are both leaving the paper to join a new multimedia political offering from Allbritton Communications, which is about to launch The Capitol Leader newspaper.”
AÂ summary in Hoovers Online says Allbritton Communications owns nine TV stations, all ABC affiliates, including one in Washington, D.C. Hoovers adds:
“The company also produces a Capitol Hill newspaper called The Capitol Leader, which is published three times a week while Congress is in session.”
Company head Robert AllbrittonÂ says The Capitol LeaderÂ will combine talent and new media technique. He told E&P:
â€œThis is the future of political journalism. Our ambitious goal is to cover this complex topic more thoroughly than has ever been done in history â€“ and to provide that coverage in whatever form and whenever consumers want it.”
(IÂ wonder: WillÂ “Extra, extra, read all about it!” survive into the 21st Century as a text message sentÂ to political junkiesÂ via their “Crackberries?”)
“We live in an entreprenurial age, not an institutional one. Thatâ€™s been true of many professions for quite a while, and increasingly (and perhaps somewhat belatedly) it is true of journalism. The people having the most satisfying careers, it seems to me, are those who create a distinct signature for their workâ€”who add value to the public conversation through their individual talentsâ€”rather than relying mostly on the reputation and institutional gravity of the organization they work for.”Â
In my day jobs (14 years as an ill-tempered reporter for a middling metropolitan daily) I write about business, technology, science and public policy as they relate to the aforementioned. What I’ve discovered is that most of what I know is wasted, in the following sense: the storiesÂ I put into the paper are necessarily brief and only hint at the complexity of the subject matter. IÂ must knowÂ far more than I can use in orderÂ to know whatÂ I can safely leave outÂ without oversimplifying to the point where the story is misleading. But the gap betweenÂ what I learn and what I can conveyÂ is growing.
Furthermore, I’ve notedÂ a perverse truth about publishing:Â the larger the audience, the lower the information density of the stories, andÂ the cheaper theÂ subscription priceÂ (nowÂ circling the drainÂ atÂ free,Â thanks toÂ the Web). Conversely small audiences that will pay huge sums for just that detailed information that experienced journalistsÂ leave out of their mass market versions. (This is not aÂ Web-induced phenomenon; look up the BNA newsletters.)Â
So money buys knowledge;Â and knowledge isÂ power.Â What a way to run a republic!
The AllbrittonÂ development suggests top newspeople are ready to leverage theirÂ expertise withÂ specialized and presumably affluent audiences. Hope for writers, perhaps. What it means for journalism toÂ have the best and brightest move into the pay-to-know category remains to be seen.