David Carr: Trusted sources thrive in times of crisis

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By Bill Kirtz

New York Times media columnist David Carr sees a video future for traditional newspapers and trouble for mid-sized publishers.

Talking at MIT Wednesday night, he called the Internet “a perfect distribution machine and a perfect machine for destroying journalism business models.”

He said news consumers are in a “golden age” of self-selection. But the problem is, “when the choices are infinite, the price drops to zero. The newspaper and magazine business is built on scarcity.”

Carr said the Internet works if you’re huge or tiny, but regional newspaper franchises are imperiled.

In crisis situations like the Boston Marathon bombings, he said, “it wouldn’t be a pretty picture without the Globe,” whose website he depended on. “There’s a natural impulse to go to a trusted source.”

In an earlier MIT talk, former George W. Bush and John McCain campaign adviser Mark McKinnon expressed a similar view. He said he hoped that in the current plethora of information offerings, there will be a  “greater premium placed on good journalism [and] trusted brands and aggregators.”

Carr praised his paper’s push to create the Web’s best news site and one that’s not afraid to break news online before its print edition. He called the Times’ Pulitzer Prize-winning “Snow Fall” text, video and graphics package an example of the payoff for “spending a lot to be innovative in ways to present information.”

Top journalism brands like the Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Globe will have to figure out video, he said.  “We’ll end up in that business whether we like it or not.”

3 thoughts on “David Carr: Trusted sources thrive in times of crisis

  1. James Harvey

    For most of the past week, the Globe (and most other traditional media outlets) hasn’t exactly done its job as a “trusted source,” and instead has allowed their desire to report as early as possible/desire to score inside-journalism points with “scoops” to carry too much weight when balanced against the desire to be right.

    For much of monday, the boston.com front page was replaced with a “live blog” that mixed hard facts with rumors in a rather incoherent way. This made it mostly useless as a “trusted” source of news. There was no scarcity of rumors on Monday, and the Globe could have distinguished itself by sorting out the truth from everything else. Instead, they provided the same functionality as my twitter feed.

    In general, I feel like the main problem is that journalists are trying to apply 20th-century journalism culture to 21st-century reporting. There was a time when scooping the competition really mattered, because for 24 hours, the only way for consumers to read about a story was to buy your paper. This meant that from a business perspective, being first was really important. Today, it’s basically irrelevant to the average media consumer, and to media companies’ bottom lines, who got to a story first, but the inside-baseball journalism types are still keeping score.

    Even as being first matters less, being right matters more than ever. Let the random bloggers and tweeters be first, and the TMZs and Gawkers of the world be the first to offer flimsy confirmation. People will still go to the Globe to hear from a trusted source. It’s time for serious journalists to put more weight on being right, and less on being first. This might mean less use of unnamed sources. It probably means fewer exciting “breaking news” tags. But it’s the only way the Globe will be relevant a decade from now.

  2. Ken Rowland

    Yea, but… the ‘Globe’, along with a few other main stream, and mid-level news outlets blew it. C’mon Professor?… this is like reading “AdAge”, a self-puff piece about its own ‘wonderfulness’ and its industry. Journalism based on the present-day advertising-model is bankrupt… not a new thought. Interestingly, last night @primeTime newsHOUR… what are we watching? A local newscast and a scroll up and down and across the street from Lord & Taylor, Boylston St, Boston VIA GOOGLE’s StreetScape… who’s the journalist here? Should we send a buck to Google, or Lord & Taylor? Journalism? ‘Death-be-not-proud’!Then…(?)… there’s Wolf Blitzer from his “SituationRoom”! Egad, journalists EVERYWHERE… “The world is a dangerous place when viewed from a DESK.” — le Carre. Best, kr ‘NU ’71. i getta get back to wolf; he’s wetting his pants…

  3. Mike Benedict

    It’s not about the size at all, but rather the ability to harness what’s out there and differentiate while doing it.

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