Those are the words of Llewellyn King, a long-time PBS journalist and one of the keynote speakers at “Media in Crisis, Crisis in Media,” a conference held at Pan European University in Bratislava, Slovakia.
King was asked to talk about what the future holds for journalism, but he began the discussion with some journalism history. According to King, modern Western journalism began in the mid-1800s in the United Kingdom. By the 1900s there was an audience of masses; for example, the city of New York had 20 daily newspapers.
“It was a time of enormous competition and innovation,” King said. With the invention of the linotype, conditions were ripe for growth. “We had people who could read and a machine that could mass produce. The age of the newspaper baron was born.”
As technological changes came about, newspapers did feel the effects to varying degree. King described how radio and newspapers “co-existed nicely” in the 1920s, but the advent of television in the 1950s brought more disruption, eventually leading to the end of the afternoon paper and a boost to the morning publications.
Even so, both radio and television were “tame technologies,” in King’s view. “They were evolutionary versus revolutionary,” King says.
In contrast is the Internet, which King says created “the greatest disruption since mass media came along.”
In the face of that disruption, King faults the industry’s response.
“When the Internet came, newspapers put information online and lost control over their content. It was a snake out of the basket that entranced them. Traditional journalism was undercut by an obsession with the Internet.”
But King says the future of journalism does lie online and he sees the answer to the question of how to get enough money to do the job right coming from a new generation of journalists.
“When you want to start something new, you need new people to do it,” says King. As an analogy, he pointed out that once commercial air travel became possible; car companies didn’t begin producing planes. Instead, a new type of company evolved.
“What we need now are new barons of journalism ready to use the Internet to the higher purposes of journalism.”