What has to work: journalism by journalists

What I’m listening to as I type: Quixotic

 

My grandson will sometimes tell me: “I’m sad, nana.” That he says this is in itself a pretty joyful thing because he has autism, and for him to recognise and describe his emotion as ‘sadness’ is reassuring.

But today, I’m right there with him on the sadness meter.

I shouldn’t be. I’ve been commissioned to write a book and have spent the past week plugging in the first set of interviews – including a trip to Washington (I’m going to West Wing land!) and time with the extraordinarily helpful team at the Washington Post. The book, provisionally called ‘Future Journalism’, will pull together everything that excites and interests me about the business of news and give me an excuse to pick some very bright brains.

But today, thinking about that phrase ‘Future Journalism’ and my investigation, I feel sad.

Not the ‘future’ bit, I don’t for one moment believe journalism doesn’t have a future. While the future for current business models delivering journalism shifts and changes, and for many individual examples has collapsed (goodbye Indie newspaper, goodbye Spot.Us, goodbye Circa…), I don’t believe that news depends on newspaper owners.

Nor do I believe that the slow death of newspapers (beautifully captured in Will Steacy’s photo-essay) has meant the slow death of journalism.

Will Steacy's project photographing the Philadelphia Inquirer. Click image to see more.

Will Steacy’s project photographing the Philadelphia Inquirer. Click image to see more.

 

But I do think there’s a slow death of journalism going on and that the fault isn’t (or isn’t just) about collapsing ad revenues and expanding production costs, the responsibility is also ours: we journalists, we editors, we journalism teachers.

For every Spotlight or Snowden, there are hundreds of complaints about The Sun’s poor journalism and the Daily Mail’s dangerously misleading stories, and dozens of academic papers highlighting biased-reporting across our media.

 

Press Complaints Commission search March 31, 2016

 

Hell, even Obama blames us for Donald Trump.

We’re the people misusing statistics, or ignoring the tougher questions, or repeating the not-true story. It’s our job to get the journalism right – we shouldn’t need quangos or bloggers or Hollywood to remind us of our personal responsibility to integrity.

And we should not accept that the people we serve trust Wikipedia more than journalists, or that 64% of young Americans don’t trust what the media says, or that journalists are rated as only marginally more honest than bankers and builders. I couldn’t care less about click-baited headlines or celebrity-focused front pages, but I care that we’ve enabled that loss of faith in journalism.

You might argue ’twas ever thus: Kirk Douglas’s excoriating 1951 portrayal of truth-bending journalist Chuck Tatum as example.

Ace In The Hole - 2

Except it isn’t so very long since faith in journalists was the reverse of those 2015 surveys. The 1956 American Election Survey found 66% of citizens believed newspapers were fair, and in 1972 people had more trust in CBS anchor Walter Cronkite than in the president (source).

Public faith in a journalist’s ability – or willingness – to tell the truth has collapsed alongside, and almost as quickly, as the profession’s business model. We have to deal with that.

In my second week as news editor at a Northern daily, a woman rang the newsdesk and spoke to me about her missing teenage daughter. She’d been missing before but never as long as this. Her mother was worried about her daughter hanging around with young Asian men. She thought her daughter was drinking and maybe taking drugs; she’d lost control of her.  The police weren’t interested and social services had stopped answering calls from her. She didn’t know what to do.

You know where that story ends up, and I’d like to be able to say that when I took that phonecall to conference it kicked off a journalistic investigation that put horrendous human beings behind bars. But the reality is that we didn’t jump in until establishment voices – a courageous MP, police officers – started saying there was a story.

Spotlight wasn’t only about the story the Boston Globe journalists uncovered, it was also about a story that had been missed the first time around. We’re human, we’re busy, we have a lot of space to fill. But for journalism produced by journalists to have a future, we have to show our public that we’re more useful than Wikipedia and way more trustworthy than their accountant.

 

trust

Why startups fail – and why Moonfruit didn’t

What I’m listening to while I type: Time (The Revelator)

Couple of interesting things this morning via the UK Business Forums’ e-flyer that I thought worth a quick post.

First, the infographic below on ‘Why startups fail’ out of research by the Startup Genome Project.

 

Their ‘five core dimensions’ for success are pretty obvious: to succeed you need customers, the right product, a good team, a good/innovative business model, and a funding cushion. These are things all startup founders know but, as I’ve said before, knowing isn’t doing.

What’s interesting about the research is that they link success directly to keeping those  five core dimensions in balance during the scaling of the business – that ‘proper’ scaling means moving all five forward at the same pace, while allowing any of the five to grow faster than the others, leads to premature scaling and to startup failure. 

I’m not sure how much the concept equates to the reality, where growth is more like The Blob than those nice neat graphs, and when founder vision is half panic, half lightbulb moments. I’ll be looking in more detail at the project in a future post, in the meantime, here’s the story on Techcrunch.

The other useful piece in the e-flyer was this video interview with Moonfruit’s Joe White.

I mentioned his wife, Wendy Tan White, in my earlier post about women founders, and his perspective on the differences between running Moonfruit now and running it in the early days, pre-2000 dotcom crash, is interesting.

Among the points he makes are:

  • Despite the recession, the UK tech sector is “crazily buoyant” right now compared to other sectors
  • The recession is good for businesses like Moonfruit because, as they saw in 2008, the recession prompts more people to set up online businesses, as a secondary or main income, that make use of the sort of services Moonfruit supplies
  • It’s easier to launch a new web-tech business now because it’s cheaper, you need less startup capital to get going
  • The downside of that is that VCs expect you to be further down the road before you come to them.

His advice to startups? “Get as much done as you can before you go after funding.”