Jeff Howe: ‘We Are Entering A Great Entrepreneurial Age Of Journalism’

We caught up with Jeff Howe, crowdsourcing expert (and author) to follow up on some of the stuff he talked about at the Circus: crowdsourcing and how we’re all not going to have jobs in a few years. (Hilarious, right?) He told us he didn’t have time to talk about everything he wanted to touch on during his official Circus presentation, so that’s where this quick Q&A comes in..hopefully it fills in at least a couple of the gaps.

Q: You said that you’re worried for the future of your own job. Where is all this heading?
A: Barbara Ehrenreich gave a commencement address that’s working its way around. She says we are not like auto workers, who can’t go into living rooms and start building cars. We can practice journalism anywhere. I think that may be true. I’d like to think that that’s true. The problem becomes that journalism is sustainable only under a low-resource model. If I’m a graduate student, her example [is] of people waiting tables and cleaning houses and also practicing some form of journalism, yeah, I’ll buy it. But…the model of journalism I’m in, where Wired throws resources in sending me to central Asia for 3 months to report on a highly complex, highly sensitive USAID program with national security implications… I don’t know what happens to that model. Journalism doesn’t get done when advertising goes away entirely. Online advertising does not support that model of journalism, it just doesn’t right now. [So] that resource-rich journalism dies out or becomes really rare.

(But it’s not all doom and gloom! Click the jump to see why.)

I do think that there are going to be a lot fewer people employed but the industry itself will continue. There will still be people who earn their living as journalists. The NYT is not going to die. The print edition might, but the NYT brand is not going to die.

One thing that’s happening right now…the Internet is correcting redundancies that the pre-Internet era had created in terms of newspapers. movie critics and sports columnists and a good half to two-thirds of the metropolitan newspaper are not needed. It’s already gotten to the point where you’d have a movie come out and 100 journalists would review it. ..[That’s] not nececssary. Who needs all that? We just don’t need 700 different perspectives on the new Will Ferrell movie. A couple people, with great mirth and wit, have at, “it sucks,” and then we’re done.

[On local metro reporting]
If the Seattle PI is doing “We can employ 8 journalists, 1 administrator and our shop is going to make 10 million a year off a combination of grant money and reader contributions and some advertising…” I have not reported on the PI, which I would like to do, but I don’t see any reason why that can’t subsist.

Q: Besides the P-I, what crowdsourced or new-media initiatives are you keeping your eye on?
A: I’m really interested to see what the New York Times is going to do. I think they’re finally starting to dip their toe in the water. I’m interested in Minnpost. I’m interested in, it’s an old story but a goodie which is TPM. What I’d be tracking in a year, they haven’t started up yet. We are about to enter an age of great entrepreneurial energy in journalism. There’s as great or greater a demand for information, for good writing, for scoops, all the stuff that we think of as news. There’s higher demand for that now than ever. A lot of people are going to try to figure out how to tap that market.