We began work on this issue with the belief that the conventional wisdom about journalism is almost certainly wrong. You know the litany: Newspapers are dying; young people are abandoning mainstream news sources for Snapchat and Twitter; talented college students are choosing different professions; journalism, at least as it has been practiced for the last century, is done. The result of all of these facts—some of which are actually true—is deemed to be stagnation and decline, a scary spiral into an unfriendly future.
At CJR, that is not the world we see.
For the last six months, we’ve gone on the hunt for dispatches from a different future of journalism, and the results are here, in what we’re calling our Innovation Issue. This future is dynamic, promising, and rife with opportunity.
We found it in places like the global news giant Reuters, which is using robots to scan social media and gain a millisecond jump over its competitors; the newsroom of The Washington Post, which Jeff Bezos has helped revive, in part by introducing the kind of data analytics that turned Amazon into a goliath; and India’s Wild West startup world, where news entrepreneurs are using digital and mobile technology to push the limits of freedom of expression.
We met Jessica Lessin, a 33-year-old former Wall Street Journal reporter who’s upending Silicon Valley’s tech reporting culture, and heard from Emily Bell, our social-media guru, about the persistent culture chasm between journalists and engineers and what it means for newsrooms in the age of Facebook.
All of these stories—as well as our drone photo essay, our infographic on media’s innovation buying spree, and our interview about storytelling with Mark Boal, the magazine writer who penned the screenplays for The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty—paint a picture that is the opposite of what you may have expected: This is an industry vibrant with change, not one running away from it.
Clearly, journalism faces daunting, even epic, challenges in the way it is financed and distributed and in the expectations and habits of a new generation of readers. But we see this moment as a pivotal transition between the journalism that was and the one that will be.
It is a leap forward we’re living firsthand at CJR. Because we’re primarily digital now, we’ve been able to respond more quickly to industry news as it has happened, and our stories already have been read by many more people—in more parts of the globe—than we could have reached in print. Traffic to CJR.org is at near-record levels, our social-media audience is growing, and we’re experimenting with new platforms like podcasts to further extend our reach.
Our future and journalism’s future are interwoven. If the stories in this issue are any guide, we couldn’t be living in more exciting times.
How to possibly keep up with the firehose of stories you want to read every day? For a time, I tried going old school, printing out pieces as I stumbled across them, then pulling out a sheaf of paper for reading at home or on the subway. The problem, of course, is that I often came across these pieces when I was nowhere near a printer (and even if I was, let it be said that the printer tends not to be mankind’s most reliable piece of technology). Into this morass came Pocket, an app that lets you easily save entire stories on your phone or desktop. It has changed my reading life. Simply by pressing the Pocket button when I land on something I want to save for later, my digital library is stored in one place, and it’s readable in places like New York City subway tunnels, where there’s no Web access. No more printers. No more cascading browser pages. And now, no excuse for missing stories that everyone else seems to have already read.