Marty Baron is the executive editor of a big newspaper.
The Washington Post is a big media company. And it is one of the pillars of what has come to be known as traditional media.
So in making a presentation on the future of news, you might not expect him to talk about entrepreneurs and their ideas. That is unless he had chosen to bemoan how his publication’s audience was being spirited away by the Googles and Facebooks of the world, or challenged by the likes online upshots Buzzfeed or Upworthy. That’s not what he talked about. But he did talk about why journalism needs entrepreneurs and ideas.
Speaking before students at Florida International University’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Baron ticked off those attributes that you are going to need if you are planning to go into journalism.
- The ability to report well
- Know how to write
- Curiosity about the world around you
- Contemporary skills like audio, video, data collection and basic coding
- Knowledge of the new forms of storytelling
- Expertise in social media to promote your own stories
Those are the no-brainers for aspiring journalists. But Baron emphasized that the future of journalism depends upon finding a different kind of person. “We need entrepreneurs, not just employees.”
I suspect that the individual will, and to some extent is already is, assuming some of the roles that were part of the purview of the media brand in the past. The journalist as individual brand may become the primary way his or her work is accessed when the distribution means are social media accounts and search engines. When the distribution was throwing the newspaper on your front lawn, it was the masthead brand that mattered. So from a marketing perspective, the media company of the future may be the sum of individual brands rather than a single company brand.
The point that Baron was focusing on is that more than anything else what journalism needs is ideas. “We used to hire people who would learn from us. Now we hire people to teach us something we don’t know.”
Referencing a previously noted fact that we sent a man to the moon before we put wheels on luggage, he said we don’t need a “moonshot.” He dismissed the idea that there is a silver bullet to save journalism. Instead we “need to do a lot of things.” Hence the paramount importance of ideas.
Baron also dismissed the notion that data holds the key to the future of news. “Nothing is more important than having a good idea. This has gotten lost in a world consumed with metrics. Metrics tell you how you did not what to work on.”
In other words, data is all about the past, ideas are about the future.