Before attending New York Times’ columnist David Carr’s presentation titled “Hitting the Reset Button” at UT, I had my reservations about an older journalist leading a discussion on the modern hysteria of social media.
Yet Carr’s youthful humor and unflattering but optimistic view on the dying art of journalism provided realistic insight into the industry's future.
Walking into the room with an iPad, round tortoiseshell glasses and tall Starbucks cup in hand, Carr easily could have been mistaken for any another academic. But when he took to the podium, his grateful, laid-back personality proved to be in stark contrast with most stereotypes of the demeanor of a world-renowned journalist.
During his talk, he examined how social media contributes to the reinvention of modern journalism.
Who killed print?
The slow death of print journalism — and who’s to blame — remains a significant discussion, as print continues to give way to the digital playground of the Internet. Carr asked the audience, “So who killed newspapers?” Amidst a pregnant silence, Carr spoke again: “The Internet? No. It’s you and me.”
"So who killed newspapers? The Internet? No. It's you and me." - David Carr
At first I had trouble grasping the concept that users could be the guilty party, but further into Carr’s presentation, it made sense.
“There is a firehouse of information out there,” said Carr. “And there is a simultaneous sharing of information that we constantly reach out to through the Internet.”
Newspapers, even dailies, can not keep up with the digital mediums of Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and news app’s. And many publications that remain in print now offer fewer printings per week.
“We’re built on scarcity in print,” said Carr. “And we lose compression pricing if there is no scarcity.”
What’s changing… and what’s not?
“The news is whizzing on by,” said Carr. “What matters is what’s on your Twitter, your Facebook status, and your other social media platforms.” While some news organizations vehemently believe Twitter is destroying the conventional news business model, others — like the Huffington Post, CNN, New York Times — are capitalizing on the craze.
“Every four seconds, content is being constantly updated on the New York Times’ Twitter,” said Carr.
While consuming the news, people become like sponges and expect it to reach them through the various realms of social media. Carr stated, “If the news is important, it will find me.” In the constant cycle in which news is constantly updated, replicated, and evaluated, people no longer have to buy newspapers or subscribe to magazines.
Yet a few things haven’t changed. The passion and content for the reported news still remains the prevailing aspect of journalism. The news' ability to educate and inform society still remains of the upmost importance.
“Good news never runs out of style,” said Carr. “It’s our job to grab the unexplored corners of the world and give it a good shake.”
Out with the old in with the new
“We have tools we never had before” sums up how the digital age has changed journalism. While Carr reminisced on the earlier days of his career, he made clear that current conveniences like news apps and email were once unfathomable ideas.
Even the classic newsroom environment of cubicles, ringing phones and open-ended conversations is the thing of the past.
“There is no practical reason for us to be together anymore in a newsroom,” said Carr. “It doesn’t matter how many times you see them in a newsroom, but how many times you see their story copy on different platforms.”
The importance has shifted away from seeing colleagues and editors face-to-face and towards the amount of times the editor sees a pitch and an article's copy. As a journalist, I rely so heavily on email not only to consume news but to quickly communicate with editors, reporters and sources for current assignments. In some cases, freelance journalists never even meet their editor face-to-face, but only through the text of an email.
“If we can make people think that these news sites are a phone app rather than a subscription, then we will eventually win.” - David Carr
“Anything is only one click away,” said Carr. “And to a reporter, nothing beats that.”
What does the future hold?
Though Carr isn’t a pessimist, the future of journalism does seem bleak.
Carr mentioned how Google and Twitter “know who people are,” meaning they allow users to choose the news they want to see rather than the news that they ought to see.
“The Internet is friction free,” said Carr. Rather than realistically informing audiences, the Internet gives anyone the opportunity to find stories that perpetuate and strengthen his or her beliefs.
Yet within those social media sites also lies opportunity. With print's static business model a thing of the past, the news’ challenge is to seek out new ways to grow an audience and make money at the same time.
“If we can make people think that these news sites are a phone app rather than a subscription, then we will eventually win,” said Carr. “We’ll no longer be the dad in the basement but the cool kids at the party.”