A fundamental shift in the mode of news production

Changes in news production and journalistic employment are often simplistically explained as the results of technology, recent economic conditions, or changes in audience preferences. All these factors have played roles, but a more fundamental and consequential shift is altering the nature of news work and news production.

For more than a hundred years news production has been characterized by the industrial mode of production in which news factories mass produced news. They brought together the resources and equipment necessary for gathering and disseminating news and they relied on trained and professionalized news workers. The product became property exchanged in markets, with geographical, market, and economic factors constraining competition to provide news products.

Although some elements of that production mode remain in place, one can observe news provision splitting into two new production modes—a service mode and a craft production mode. These have enormous implications for the work of journalists and how news is provided in society.
The service mode is one in which news products (newspapers, broadcasts) are being transformed into services with news providers streaming news and information across a variety of platforms, such as print, computer terminals, tablets, and smartphones, and other screen-based devices. They are now focusing more on distributing news rather than gathering and producing it and are relying more on news and commentary produced by news services, content provided to them by the public, and links to other news providers than on their own production.

These news service providers are using pricing models that differ from those of the original product base, with varying prices for access to different bundles of platforms and different levels of access to premium and specialized news content. Pay systems such as those of Press+ and Piano Media are providing mechanism for paid access to multiple news providers—a new form of service. The shift to the service production mode follows that of the paid streaming audio and video services that have proliferated in the past decade.

The shift is making news service providers increasingly dependent on acquisition of news content produced by others, leading them to offer their content at relatively low prices, and inducing them to create better user experiences.  We will increasingly see such services offered at the national and international levels by larger news enterprises.
Concurrently, a different form of production is developing and gaining acceptance–the craft mode of news production. This is production by journalist entrepreneurs and small-scale journalistic cooperatives that are emphasizing the uniqueness and quality in their news. Those working in the craft mode are focusing on special topics such as climate or defense, employing specialized techniques such as investigative or data journalism, or serving smaller localities as general providers. Most are providing news directly to consumers, as well as providing materials to those practicing the service mode.

These new modes have important implications for how journalists work, the resources available to them, and how they organize their careers, compensation, insurance, and pensions. To date, little consideration has been given to how cooperative institutional support for news workers should be organized in this new environment. Journalists unions remain an artifact of the industrial mode of production and are changing very slowly and professional associations remain focused on issues other than work and labor. Something needs to change.


donica said...

Thank you for this interesting and useful way to categorize the diversification of journalistic work.

I have a couple of questions: Large legacy organizations such as the NYT, Guardian, etc. seem to fall into the service production mode category, but they also spend a great deal of resources on content production. Do you see their emphasis on original content decreasing over time, or are they exceptions to the general categories?

Also, do you see a third possible category of independent journalists, freelancers, contract workers? Some might be expert journalists as you describe in another post, others might be cheap labor for the service providers, and everything inbetween. Taken as a whole, they might represent another mode of production outside of formal institutional employment.

Robert G. Picard said...

The Guardian is increasingly relying on contributors (both paid and unpaid) to bolster its offerings and thinking of itself more in the service mode. NYT would like to, but is having difficulties shaking off the thinking associated with the industrial mode.

We have always had freelancers in the news business, but many of them are becoming more entrepreneurial and running their own sites, syndicating material, and selling materials to other content providers. These tend to operate more in the craft mode of production.