Great Web Journalism Breaking Out Everywhere
Even as important parts of the journalism food chain seem to be collapsing all around us, there's much hopeful innovation to celebrate and learn from. If you know where to look for the best stuff, journalism has perhaps never been more vital. That doesn't mean, of course, that there aren't a boatload of nagging issues about how best to sustain its various business models, which are changing and which will change plenty more in coming years. But if you're a journalist these days and don't like change, and resist learning new skills, you'd be better off finding another line of work, sorry to say.
When it comes to finding vitality in this industry, naturally that often means looking on the web, including at some of the best new web-only publications. There are so many promising ones I could mention, and I will try to mention many of them in coming weeks and months. But rather than inundate you today, let me point you to two especially fine examples that I think are among the best and freshest online-only pubs: New West and Inside Higher Education. Each one serves as a brilliant example of how to reconceive journalism.
New West is the brainchild of Jonathan Weber, a former L.A. Times reporter and later the founder of the excellent Industry Standard, the leading newsmagazine of the web, before it crashed and burned in 2001. In 2002, he moved to Missoula, Montana to teach at the University of Montana school of journalism, and began to notice all the interesting changes happening in the American west, none of which he saw reflected in the region's media. So he started his own. Rather than having me describe why I think it's so fresh and interesting, please take a moment and study it for yourself. If you think I'm wrong, by all means let me know via the comments. Next year, the publication plans on launching a print companion, turning the usual progression of publication growth on its head.
Inside Higher Ed, meanwhile, has the unfortunate challenge of taking on the grandaddy of publications covering the college and university industry, the Chronicle of Higher Education, which has owned the beat forever, supported by page after page of advertising from the industry, which seems to use the Chronicle to advertise for every faculty opening in America. Still, despite the thoroughness and general excellence of the big pub, the higher ed industry has always been in need of a scrappy competitive voice, and for a time that role was occupied by the literate Lingua Franca. It too died in 2001, to the dismay of much of the academy. IHE doesn't pretend to cover the industry with the same kind of panache (it's a far more sober read), but it does a superior job at what it tackles. In just its second year of life, it's still a certified novice, likely to improve. It also threatens to slowly bleed it's larger rival's business model, by offering to post university job listings for just $125 a pop. A look at the staff bios shows there are some veterans of the Chronicle of Higher Ed aboard, including one of the founders.
Similarly, traditional print journalism institutions are being reborn in new ways on the web. I've talked about how my beloved Christian Science Monitor, (for which I occasionally review books) has found new life on the web. Now down to a print circulation of just 60,000 copies, a number at which it almost ceases to exist in terms of national influence, the paper, with its century-long reputation for great reporting, especially in international news, has invested heavily in the web. And it has been rewarded with nearly two million enthusiastic readers online. But consider another Boston-based institution with a familiar name, the Boston Globe. A few years ago, it added a splendid section, Ideas, whose wonderful name suggests an appetite for innovation and experimentation. Recently, the section added a blog, Brainiac, written by a handful of contributors. It too is first-rate. All of these islands of innovation and excellence are examples for others. I hope the timid will learn from them and adapt, rather than wasting time merely worrying about the future.