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May 18, 2015, 5:47 pm

A new paper by John M. Geddes, Joan Shorenstein Fellow (Fall 2014) and former managing editor of The New York Times explores the disruption of the news industry through the lens of technology reporters.

A transformative wave washed over the world economy this past quarter-century and technology journalists were its chroniclers and front-row witnesses. Many, among the twenty interviewed, say a catastrophic disruption of the news business was to be expected. But they feel their warnings went largely unheard within their workplaces, a contributing factor to the industry’s late and ineffectual counter-efforts. In contrast to pessimism about the future financial underpinnings of their business, they’re optimistic about the outlook for journalism as new tools, audiences and approaches emerge and evolve.

Read the full paper (PDF).

Find video interviews, transcripts, supporting materials and interviewee biographies at digitalriptide.org.

Excerpt:

As digital disruption buffeted and transformed media over the past quarter-century, there was one group paid to stand close and yet be apart. These were the reporters and commentators assigned to cover the technology industry, its evolution, its reach and its products. Interviews with 20 of them in fall 2014 paint a pointillist landscape of a transformative, tumultuous era.

They were charged by their bosses to be the telescopes closely tracking the tech meteor streaking through the heavens. That the rock would crash into the news business is something many of them – though not all – say they saw coming. Their predictions, they feel, went largely unheard including in their workplaces.

That’s what the journalism business was like. We watched it, everybody saw it happening and the people who were covering it would go to their bosses and say, “We’re screwed. We’re not doing this correctly.” Josh QuittnerNo one wanted to hear what technology reporters had to say, no one.I had a good relationship with Donny Graham. He never sent stuff down to me and said, “What should we do, Steven?” Steven Levy

What you see depends on where you stand, and these reporters realize they’re on one of the journalism beach’s few stretches that hasn’t yet been washed away by the digital wave. Many began when tech coverage was “back of the book,” a few columns in the business pages. Since then they’ve seen a huge influx of money and talent, begetting conferences, special sections and websites that provide critical revenue lifeblood for media companies in precarious health.

They count themselves lucky to have been witnesses. They feel they did a “pretty good” job covering this era and what it wrought. Having traveled in the same circles for years, they aren’t above talking out-of-school, exchanging bits of trash-talk and being garrulous, rather than close-mouthed, about their journey.

Most tellingly, almost all remain optimistic about the future of journalism in the digital age even if they shy from concrete forecasts and are flummoxed how their successors will earn salaries akin to what they’ve been paid.

They count themselves lucky to have been witnesses. They feel they did a “pretty good” job covering this era and what it wrought. Having traveled in the same circles for years, they aren’t above talking out-of-school, exchanging bits of trash-talk and being garrulous, rather than close-mouthed, about their journey.

You go to a Facebook announcement, and there are maybe several hundred journalists. You think “Is this industry dying or is this growing?” If you go to City Hall, or you walk into any newsroom, any metro newsroom in this country, you’re like, “What happened here? Where are the people?” Michelle Quinn


Most tellingly, almost all remain optimistic about the future of journalism in the digital age even if they shy from concrete forecasts and are flummoxed how their successors will earn salaries akin to what they’ve been paid.

You have to be cynical, yet optimistic about journalism. There’s a holy church of journalism, which isn’t doing that well, but there is, if you like, the faith, or the religion of journalism, which is searching for the truth. That still exists, and it will persist. Esther Dyson

Read the full paper (PDF).

Find video interviews, transcripts, supporting materials and interviewee biographies at digitalriptide.org.