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

Yeah. One of two things could cause that to happen. One is a European perspective, where there’s a much stricter limit on fair use, and the search engine needs to pay.
The FT, had a reassessment on this, around about 2001, when the dot com bubble started bursting. At that point, we had noticed that there were some issues for us as an organization with the advertising model. The fact was we were struggling to get scale. We were coming up against the reality that we were a niche publisher, producing content that only appealed to a very narrow segment of the marketplace. That was inherent to who we were. We weren’t going to be able to escape those confines. The notion that we might compete with the portals and the general news providers in terms of volume looked like a fancy. That was the first point at which the FT really started to think about Web business models. The conclusion that came out of that process was that we should sell subscriptions.
We needed to hone in what was going to be our unique value proposition before we had any chance of building an enterprise that people would pay for.

Explore more topics Vol. 1 

Aha! Moments

Volume 2:
Tech Journalists

What costs a dollar cost a nickel in four years! This is a different kind of economic phenomenon than we’ve ever seen. Journalism beat that much basic economics into me that I understood and thought there’s something that’s going to happen here.
Brent Schlender
I’m like “That thing has no buttons and no keys. What is he thinking?” Man, they saw so far out that day when they showed the iPhone. That really has changed everything. I mean everything.
David Pogue
As email became interactive, as Mosaic came on too, one began to see what that would be.
James Fallows

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. 

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Volume
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