An oral history of the epic collision between journalism and digital technology, 1980 to the present

A project of the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy

An oral history of the epic collision between journalism and digital technology, from 1980 to the present

Did Free News Lead to the Riptide?

Volume 1:
CEOs, Coders, News Execs, Disrupters

I was never in a place where they actually considered charging from the beginning. I think everybody felt they needed to be in the game right away. Nobody knew exactly what the economic model would be.
We decided to run an experiment outside the United States where we did charge, which is something a lot of people forget. The website was free in the US, but outside the US you had to pay for it. We kept that going for about 18 months. We got, I want to say, about 3,600 subscribers. One of the things I like to say is we ended the experiment on Bastille Day, and that day, I believe it was in 1998, we got more registered users in about an hour than we had subscribers in the last 18 months.
Yahoo wasn’t going to do anything that was going to interfere with the metric that was driving their stock, which at that point, was audience. Certainly any kind of pay situation would have interfered with that thing.

Explore more topics Vol. 1 

Business Models for News?

Volume 2:
Tech Journalists

It was the most expensive magazine in the world to produce and instead they could hire a columnist who could write it from clips. That’s back to the original model at Time magazine which was a cut-and-paste job done by a couple of Yale guys.
Philip Elmer-Dewitt
It could be humor. It could be tech. Look at Politico. It could be politics. It could be whatever. It’s a harder time to be a publisher, but not an impossible time.
Walt Mossberg
We watched it, everybody saw it happening and the people who were covering it would go to their bosses and say, “We’re screwed. We’re not doing this correctly.”.
Josh Quittner

Explore more topics Vol. 2 

The Big Picture

For most of the 20th century, any list of America’s wealthiest families would include quite a few publishers generally considered to be in the “news business”: the Hearsts, the Pulitzers, the Sulzbergers, the Grahams, the Chandlers, the Coxes, the Knights, the Ridders, the Luces, the Bancrofts — a tribute to the fabulous business model that once delivered the country its news. While many of those families remain wealthy today, their historic core businesses are in steep decline (or worse), and their position at the top of the wealth builders has long since been eclipsed by people with other names: Gates, Page and Brin and Schmidt, Zuckerberg, Bezos, Case, and Jobs — builders of digital platforms that, while not specifically targeted at the “news business,” have nonetheless severely disrupted it.

Keep reading Vol 1. 

The Tech Journalists

A transformative wave washed over the world economy this past quarter-century and technology journalists were its chroniclers and front-row witnesses. Many, among the twenty interviewed, say a catastrophic disruption of the news business was to be expected. But they feel their warnings went largely unheard within their workplaces, a contributing factor to the industry’s late and ineffectual counter-efforts. In contrast to pessimism about the future financial underpinnings of their business, they’re optimistic about the outlook for journalism as new tools, audiences and approaches emerge and evolve.

Keep reading Vol 2. 

Browse Interviews
Huffington Post
New York Times
San Jose Mercury News
Wall Street Journal
Washington Post
East Coast
West Coast
Began Covering Tech
Before 1990 (inclusive)
After 1990
News Industry – Biz Side or Edit
Vol 1: CEOs, Coders, News Execs, Disrupters
Vol 2: Tech Journalists

Four veterans of digital journalism and media — John Huey, Martin Nisenholtz, Paul Sagan, and later John Geddes — interviewed dozens of people who played important roles in the intersection of media and technology — from CEOs to coders, journalists to disruptors.

Riptide is the result: more than 50 hours of video interviews and two narrative essays that trace the evolution of digital news from early experiments to today. It’s what really happened to the news business.

Read Vol. 1  
See interviews