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

What has changed in the media equation is the mass media equation.
Tom Johnson said, “Harry, if you give it away you’ll never be able to charge for it.”.
We had to basically move off a communications per hour model to more of an advertising supported model, which is the way most media, television and so forth, magazines and other things, they’ve always had more of a blended model, where advertising was a key revenue stream. We didn’t have any advertising on AOL until we moved to unlimited pricing. It was a completely consumer focused service with a set of services that consumers paid for by the hour.

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Career Entry Points

Volume 2:
Tech Journalists

The journalism happened because one evening I was sitting in a bar in Burlington, Vermont, where I lived, having a couple of beers with an editor of the local weekly newspaper which had covered my music a number of times.
Dan Gillmor
“You do not want to be a professor. Don’t be a professor. This is talk about a dead-end career.”.
Brent Schlender
I had written obits and wedding notices, of course, but I had also written real stories, a few business stories. I had one or two scoops that put me on the front page. I knew how to write a story and I knew how to develop sources. I knew how to do all that stuff when I was a kid.
Walt Mossberg

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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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Began Covering Tech
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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