To say that journalism has changed in the last few years is putting it mildly. Those that watch the news industry and have a concern for its future are all too the familiar with the statistics. Dramatic drops in print advertising revenue are followed by layoffs, pay cuts and even the occasional closure of an institution that has informed the public for generations. Meanwhile, an entirely new digital news ecosystem is slowly emerging on the Web and mobile platforms, even if not everyone has figured out the best way to monetize it yet.
For a clue about how dramatically things have changed, look no further than the latest hire made by the Washington Post. The 135-year-old newspaper company has nabbed Rob Malda, the founder and former editor in chief of Slashdot.
Malda is going to work for WaPo Labs, where he will adopt the titles of Chief Strategist and Editor at Large. WaPo Labs is the hub of digital innovation and experimentation for the Washington Post Company. Anybody who has seen a Washington Post headline bubble up on their Facebook news ticker is at least somewhat familiar with their work. The Washington Post Social Reader is just one initiative to come out of Labs. The group also works on mobile application development, news aggregation and a range of other digital projects.
"This is going to be a challenge," Malda wrote on his personal blog. "Declining print revenues make it hard to run something as expensive as a news room in an era of crowd-sourcing and tweeting. But I think we need to figure out good ways for these opposite ends of the spectrum to benefit each other."
At WaPo Labs, Malda will straddle the tech and editorial worlds, working with engineers while also contributing content and editorial input.
The Washington Post is far from the only newspaper company trying to remake itself for a digital future. In fact, it's fair to say that the ones that do the best job are going to be the ones that still exist in ten years. Some very established legacy media brands have made great strides in the digital realm, with the likes of NPR and the New York Times pushing out forward-thinking digital storytelling projects, APIs and experimental new media tools. Even as Philadelphia's daily newspapers continue to struggle financially and may be about to change owners yet again, the company that runs them has wasted no time forging an aggressive tablet strategy and launching a tech startup incubator inside their headquarters.
Even the traditional media companies who have done the best job of innovating and developing digital initiatives across platforms face much bigger questions about the longterm viability of their business models. As effective as the Internet and mobile technology are for news-gathering and publishing information, they don't come with a one-size-fits-all replacement for the print revenues that have been eroding for the last several years.
Newspaper photo by Zoey Hao