Evaluating the business of web journalism

It was recently confirmed that Ezra Klein, creator of The Washington Post’s Wonkblog, would be leaving the Post for Vox Media, a younger, digitally-based company. The news sparked two columns by the New York Times’ David Carr about web journalism. His main question: Is web journalism is a bubble waiting to burst or an actual growing business?

Carr says web journalism has the advantage of being digitally-based, so it can deliver content quickly and easily. It has smaller staffs and fewer operating costs. Advertising rates are going down, but advertising on sites with quality content is a solid business. Overall, Carr seems to think web journalism is in good shape.

However, Carr’s columns also seem somewhat cautionary. He quotes a man who talks about how various forms of journalism have had times when they reigned supreme, and “these days the reigns are briefer than ever because the march of technology has quickened to a trot.” It is encouraging to think the reign of web journalism is coming, but it’s also a reminder that web journalism will only reign until something better comes along. Web journalists must remember that they can’t focus entirely on having the best technology, because it is only a matter of time before even their best is outdated.

So, web journalism sites need to maintain strength in other areas, too, such as reporting. Carr mentions George Parker as wondering “if everybody tried to make a living by aggregating and explaining the work of others, a k a blogging, there would not be much actual reporting going on, and thus little left to talk about.” I’ve seen a lot of that online — one outlet repackaging another’s content — and it makes me nervous, not only as a journalist but also as a consumer who worries about the quality of the material she is reading. But, as Carr points out, many sites that aggregate are also taking new risks with reporting.

My takeaway from these articles is that there is a solid business in online journalism, but it must be built with caution. Keep up with the best technology so you can effectively and efficiently spread information; however, stick close to the traditional focal points of quality reporting and editing, too, so you’re always providing quality content that retains value and technology changes. It’s a lot easier to say than to do, but I’m confident the industry can handle it.

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