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

The Riptide blog

Posted by John Huey, Martin Nisenholtz, & Paul Sagan
October 28, 2015, 7:20 pm

Riptide on the Road

With the launch of Riptide’s second essay by John Geddes, we went back out to talk about the project at a few events around the country. If we’re in your city, we’d love to see you. Completed: Monday, October 26, 2015: Thanks to Boston University for hosting an event to probe more deeply into the […]

Posted by Martin Nisenholtz
October 1, 2015, 8:00 pm

Riptide Event at Boston University – October 26

Please join us at BU on Monday, October 26 at 5:30PM for a discussion of the Riptide project, including new interviews conducted by John Geddes, Ex-Managing Editor at The New York Times We will hold two panels: One with the authors of the project; the other with four of the journalists who covered the changing […]

Posted by John Geddes
April 10, 2015, 5:39 pm

Vol 2 — The Tech Beat and Site Changes

Writing the second act, when you didn’t write the first is always a challenge but I got lucky on three counts. The tech reporters I talked with were, as the interviews show, uniformly chatty, fun and open. Tom Silver, my research assistant, was a superb teammate. And I was able to develop some new storytelling […]

Posted by Martin Nisenholtz
December 18, 2014, 3:24 pm

Yahoo, Marissa Mayer and the Future of Journalism

Nicholas Carlson’s piece in The New York Times Magazine this week attempts to answer the question: “What happened when Marissa Mayer tried to be Steve Jobs?” It’s a blistering critique, characterizing Mayer as a kind of Marie Antoinette among the digerati. The story of Yahoo is an important one in the epic collision between journalism and […]

Posted by Martin Nisenholtz
November 18, 2014, 4:54 pm

Could Business Information Services Have Saved Newspapers?

Early on in the Riptide project I suggested to John Huey and Paul Sagan that we develop a “sidebar” in the area of Business Information Services. My thought was that newspapers were among the early pioneers in this highly technical area – after all, The New York Times Information Bank was the precursor to the […]

Posted by Martin Nisenholtz
June 20, 2014, 3:54 pm

Mr Penny-and-a-Half

Henry Blodget’s Riptide interview is one of my favorites. In a sea of mostly negative prognostications about the future of quality journalism, Henry stands almost alone as an unrelenting optimist. His argument, simply put, is that in a pre-Web world of distribution constraint, quality content was “like a hydrant in the desert.”  Few people had access […]

Posted by Martin Nisenholtz
June 4, 2014, 9:55 am

HBS, the NYT and the Star System

My first post on the excellent New York Times article about business model disruption at the Harvard Business School compared the School’s attempts to sustain its existing economics with similar attempts at high-end newspapers like The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. HBS has chosen to pursue what Professor Clay Christensen refers to as a […]

Posted by Martin Nisenholtz
June 1, 2014, 4:02 pm

Christensen versus Porter and The New York Times

The New York Times is running a brilliant article today about the Harvard Business School and the emerging Internet technologies that might destroy its business model. In it, the authors turn to two HBS professors, Clay Christensen and Michael Porter, for views on how the School should transition to the digital age. Christensen, characteristically, argues […]

Posted by Paul Sagan
May 5, 2014, 8:25 am

The Great Unwatched

The trend of analog marketing dollars becoming digital dimes supporting online content isn’t abating. Earlier this week, David Segal in The Times literally undressed the online video ad market and discovered – wait for it – that marketers may not be getting everything they’ve paid for when placing video ads onto online sites. One of […]

Posted by Paul Sagan
April 28, 2014, 10:01 am

Will evolving rules around net neutrality further hamper creating new models for news?

It’s difficult to miss the current debate over what’s known as net neutrality, or the rules that govern how the Internet works. Last week the New York Times proclaimed, “F.C.C., in a Shift, Backs Fast Lane for Web Traffic.” The proposed changes may have implication for all online businesses, and the news business will not […]

Posted by Martin Nisenholtz
February 7, 2014, 12:19 pm

Publisher as Platform – A Perspective from Jonathan Glick

Jonathan Glick, the founder and CEO of Sulia, wrote a terrific piece on the idea of publisher as platform for Recode today. (Full disclosure: I am on the Sulia Board of Directors.) Glick begins with a useful little trip down memory lane. He reminds us that for the past decade or so, publishers and platforms […]

Posted by Martin Nisenholtz
January 30, 2014, 11:30 am

The Bubble’s beside the point (Part II)

Today, The New York Times reports a “major expansion” at the Washington Post. We spent a lot of time interviewing folks at the Post for Riptide. We went back to their earliest online investments in things like LegiSlate, the proprietary online business to business service covering government legislation. We talked to the family scion, Don […]

Posted by Martin Nisenholtz
January 29, 2014, 1:30 pm

The Bubble’s beside the point

The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times all ran articles this week on the rapidly changing digital news landscape. All explore whether the recent funding of several digital news startups might be creating a bubble in the Internet news arena. First up was David Carr who used Ezra Klein’s announcement that […]

Posted by Paul Sagan
November 16, 2013, 9:39 pm

BuzzFeed, Vice and the next generation in serious news?

Noteworthy story in The Independent by Ian Burrell pointing out the investments being made at Vice and Buzzfeed to fund original journalism, including full-on investigative reporting. The opportunity that both organisations have identified is to serve the so-called “millennial” audience of twenty-somethings who have supposedly turned their backs on mainstream news providers. I’m not sure […]

Posted by Martin Nisenholtz
November 4, 2013, 1:42 pm

Golden Age

Henry Blodget offered the most optimistic point-of-view among our interviewees with regard to the state of modern journalism. His basic premise is that there has never been more good information available to readers; that the web has, in fact, created a “golden age” of journalism. Bill Keller offers a more nuanced perspective in his New York […]

Posted by John Huey, Martin Nisenholtz, & Paul Sagan
September 28, 2013, 9:59 pm

The Washington Post Relies on Riptide to Explain the Forces that Forced the Paper’s Sale

When we started working on Riptide last winter, we hoped it would be a future resource for researchers and reporters alike trying to understand what happened to the legacy news business when it ran into the digital revolution. We had no idea it would be used so soon, but we’re glad it was available when […]

Posted by Paul Sagan
September 24, 2013, 10:00 am

Another Take on the “Original Sin” of Publishers

We spend a great deal of time in the Riptide interviews and essay looking at what’s been called the Original Sin of the news business. That is, when news business owners (mainly newspaper and magazine publishers) decided to give their content away without charge on the Web. Our conclusion: It didn’t really matter because a […]

Posted by John Huey, Martin Nisenholtz, & Paul Sagan
September 15, 2013, 11:13 am

A thoughtful critique in paidContent

Mathew Ingram’s thoughtful article in paidContent on this project raises the question of whether we, the authors, seek to absolve industry leaders (and, by extension, ourselves) of responsibility for the sad state of economic affairs in much of journalism today. By calling the project Riptide, he asserts that we are likening what happened in the […]

Posted by John Huey, Martin Nisenholtz, & Paul Sagan
September 9, 2013, 2:57 pm

Who we interviewed

We started by identifying the institutions that we believed were central to the Riptide story — the change of news through the rise of digital technology, beginning around 1980. Then we sought to interview many of the key people at those institutions. At that time, they were, regrettably, overwhelmingly white and male. Riptide was always […]

Posted by Paul Sagan
September 5, 2013, 12:53 pm

A view from a Chicago newspaper publisher (and Riptide dad)

When we embarked on the exploration that became Riptide, John, Martin, and I knew that how the news gets paid for and the evolving need for readers to pay for the news they consume would be a central theme. Even as we asked a few early readers to comment on the site, we got feedback […]

Posted by Martin Nisenholtz
September 5, 2013, 12:50 pm

Randall Rothenberg: What about Bloomberg?

Even before releasing Riptide we heard from a number of people who felt that we missed particular players in the evolution of digital news. We explain in Riptide’s “About” section that we did our best to cover a lot of ground in only three months, the term of our Fellowship. We freely admit that we […]

Posted by John Huey, Martin Nisenholtz, & Paul Sagan
September 5, 2013, 12:44 pm


When we created Riptide as Fellows at Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center, we wanted to find out “what really happened” between the moment online services were first introduced into journalistic institutions in the late 1970s to today, 35 years later. We spoke to over 60 people who made the decisions and worked in the institutions […]