The Future of Media is Murky

This decade has spurred on a lengthy requiem for print media, a lament indicated in part by countless blogs covering media news, as well as news items reporting the downsizing of newsrooms. And if Wednesday's hour-long expert panel at my alma mater of NYU was any indication, some of the most successful media players remain as puzzled as ever on what will happen next.

Hosted by Patrick Phillips's I Want Media, the panel brought David Carr of The New York Times, Keith Kelly of The New York Post, Kenneth Li of Reuters, Johnnie Roberts of Newsweek, Erick Schonfeld of TechCrunch and Michael Wolff of Vanity Fair into NYU journalism department's year-old TV studio to discuss as broad and daunting a concept as The Future of Media.

As Li noted later in his Reuters blog, cordial back-and forth remarks took up about 20 minutes of the designated hour.

And then David Carr set down his iced coffee and described Michael Wolff's analysis of The New York Times's current state as "a bunch of shit." Wolff had argued that The Times isn't necessarily getting an optimal return for the $300 million it spends yearly on news. New York Times reporters, like bloggers, get some of their tips and material from public web forums, he said.

"There's a perception out there that you aren't really offering all that that much value anymore," Wolff said after Carr's verbal outburst.

As expected, technology breakthroughs and even business strategies can potentially be discussed in a toned-down fashion in a circle of journalists, but when it comes to debating the practices of reporting, established veterans aren't likely to bite their tongues.

In their crossfire, Carr argued that news created by traditional bloggers couldn't, by the most part, replace the kind of in-depth hard news reporting The Times excels at.

"What's going to provide the host organism for all your meta-analysis?" he said. Wolff, on the other hand, described the news media as dependent on a sense of convergence between media forms, not to mention highly influenced by bloggers who often do their work for free.

"We're all sitting here in headlights," Wolff finally said, in a remark that best encapsulated the mood of the discussion. He also predicted Newsweek to not be around in five years' time, a statement that attracted the attention of The Huffington Post.

Fittingly, all of the coverage I've seen of the event thus far has been in blog form. Citizen journalism forum Groundreport was streaming online video of the event, and it would have simply been counterproductive to transfer the ordeal onto traditional print.

That, in itself, is part of our answer. But, as the panelists noted on Wednesday, getting audiences to pay for journalism is trickier. Even attending the panel in person was free of charge.

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