What business are journalists really in?

This month’s Carnival of Journalism prompt asks if journalists can be good capitalists.

Journalists start off with a significant disadvantage. They see the world through journalism colored glasses. Everyone starts with what they know, but what journalists know about how news has worked in the past is not especially relevant to the journalism of the future. Not every problem is resolved by good research, sharp interviews or well written prose.

Journalism basics are important, just not essential to innovation or entrepreneurship.

This is not just a problem with the media industry, or the news industry but any industry. You have to understand what business you are really in in order to think in the appropriate terms. As Mike Masnick points out in an eloquent post and video on the innovator’s dilemma, the horse drawn carriage industry needed to realize that it wasn’t in the carriage business but the transportation business. The benefit it provided its customers was transportation, but just the product of carriages.

Journalists need to think about and understand what value they are actually providing. Many in the news business are indoctrinated with the principle that media is the 4th estate and indispensable to our democracy. While debatably true in principle, principles rarely explain the basic functioning of a business. Netwon’s laws are indispensable to the automotive industry, but they don’t tell you how to build an engine.

What journalism provides people with is useful information to understand the world around them and take action. It can also provide entertainment. Whomever provides a person with information that has the most value to the average consumer is on a good path to be successful in the business of news.

The most read stories on our site are almost always the most useful: articles about new businesses opening, articles about businesses closing and articles about events. Why? Because they provide information that is directly actionable to people, i.e. it’s really damn useful.

What ways are there to disseminate business openings and closures to your community? A journalist sees this as a problem that is solved by making a phone call or perhaps visiting the business. But is that most efficient way to find that out?

So, *can* journalists be good capitalists? Yes, but they need to overcome the disadvantage of not seeing what service they are really providing to their communities.

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