Sorry for the winners/whiners of the Oscars of pessimism: Journalism will remain as interesting as it used to be. OK, granted: Most of the job’s mystique is gone for good; football-sized newsrooms; charismatic, seasoned, suspenders-bearing editors belong to the past. So do glossy, reportage-loaded magazines. Many bad things are happening to journalism, including a rise in outsourcing core competences such as editing (see this story in the Hindustan Times ). But reports of journalism’s death are vastly premature. Actually, the big media shift we are experiencing will provide many opportunities — as long as (and yes, this a quite a proviso) the current professionals adapt quickly and the upcoming generation of news people gets proper training.

First thing first: there will always strong demand for good journalism. Bloggers are splendid, they benefit society and journalists as well. Thanks to the blogosphere, we have seen our congenital modesty suitably cut down. But, structurally, bloggers suffer from the inversion of the ten-to-one rule: in order to have a good journalistic story you must gather roughly ten times the amount of information you’ll use eventually. It is see-through American coffee morphing into thick, dark Italian espresso. Too often, the blog world work the other way around. Tiny facts — borrowed from other sources — diluted into bloated, unedited, chatting. Some bloggers are so talented or so specialized that their verbose drivel becomes a must-read. Those are resetting the notion of “most trusted brand” which was the motto to American TV networks, circa 1970. They are also offering what many journalists can no longer do: focus, obsessive specialization, academic knowledge, etc. But how much do they weight in the ambient noise ? 1% ? 10%? (which, either way is a lot in absolute terms). At the other end of the table, journalism is — or is supposed to be — about skills in facts-gathering, it is about explaining, contextualizing, editing and sometimes, analyzing and commenting. It is not molecular genomics (I prefer this metaphor to the “rocket science” one, sorry) but it is a genuine trade that doesn’t get learnt overnight. That craft won’t disappear. It will shrink for sure, but the demand for great storytelling remains: the New Yorker magazine enjoys — and rejoices — several million readers, after all.But, above all, journalism will mutate.

New genres will emerge. They will encompass the all spectrum of journalism on a multiplicity of platforms: multi-layer of text, photo, video, animated graphics. And please don’t tell me it is not noble journalism: click on any multimedia items in the New York Times or Slate Magazine, or, even better, go to the Washington Post sponsored site Mediastorm to forgo any lingering doubt. I personally don’t know of any member of my professional gang (French journalists in their fifties) who is not looking at the digital tools we enjoy today with a mixture of nostalgia and eagerness. How would these tools have fueled his journalistic passion when reporting from Jerusalem, Moscow or New York?

The most important question is: Are we preparing the next batch of journalists to handle such versatility? The answer tends to be no. We can’t blame them, but most of them want to be writers in the most romantic sense. For many, learning the digital trade is more a kind of “passage obligé” rather than an end in itself. Surprisingly, even their use of the Internet is rather shallow. They visit news sites to avoid going to the newsstand, they download profusely, but few of them blog or go inside the bowels of the beast to satisfy their curiosity. A partial explanation is most of their teachers belong to digital-averse generation. It will be some time before the young journalists grab the tools at their disposal (they better hurry because bloggers will do). A new kind of journalistic storytelling has yet to be invented. And it will be as compelling as the old one.

The digital era is an opportunity for journalists to regain a great deal of power in the management of news organizations. Let me explain. Twenty years ago the CEO of Dow Jones said this about the Wall Street Journal’s then managing editor, Norman Pearlstine: “We gave Norm an unlimited budget and he exceeded it!” That’s a pithy quote, indeed. In retrospect, I can’t help but resent a bit the man who caused such a remark. Pearlstine was not an isolated free spender. He was part of a widespread species that dominated newsrooms in those times when newspaper readers were in great abundance. Unfortunately, carelessness gave credence to the idea that journalists are the antithesis of managers as far as business is concerned. It cleared the way to a transfer of management to a business elite who doesn’t have a clue — and doesn’t want to — on what journalism is about.

Consequently, news organizations have been taken over by financial people. They are encompassing the full spectrum. The worst are former comptrollers who patiently climbed the corporate ladder thanks to successful restructurings (or brown-nosing). The best are strategists, MBA’s with the deal-making plug-in added to their embedded software. (To my surprise — at least in my country — boards tend to prefer the former who aremore docile than the ambitious, visionary kind). Newspaper organizations are built on silos (the newsroom, versus the marketing/advertising, logistics, technical, or administrative crowd). With management carefully maintaining hostility between fiefs, using the “divide-to-rule” principle. As the news media is in turmoil, this outdated managing setup must be revisited, by will or by the force of reality. To do that, producers — i.e. the news people — must extend their reach. Evidently, some jobs are up for grabs. Editorial marketing for instance. Today, many media CEO are bragging about hiring of a former Procter & Gamble young Turk as their marketing chief. It usually doesn’t fly very far. It goes for media as for the high tech sector. Meg Whitman tenure at eBay was not mind blowing (she was former marketing manager at the toymaker Hasbro), but when someone from the trade is able to jump into marketing, it really works, cf. Steve Jobs at Apple or Eric Schmidt at Google.

Would journalists be good at editorial marketing? Of course they would. After all it’s all about product design, audience expectations, strategy and tactics to better address a moving and demanding target. Are they ready to grab the challenge? No. Not a shred. Nor they are ready to deal with IT powered journalism such as data-mining (a powerful tool though). They are not up to managing the technical dimension of the Internet that is borderline editorial such as website structuring: how do we assemble all the components of a site to make the most coherent news product, referencing, search and so on. Search engine optimization for instance — a critical alchemy on which depends 30% to 50% of a site audience — is currently done by in-house or external experts, half techies, half marketeers, even though it is an obvious editorial question.

The challenge for journalism schools and universities is integrating the full scope of what is at stake here, of what we just reviewed. Then they must convince idealistic students that the digital arena is their main professional domain and that technical and business skills are as important as good writing — that is if they don’t want to feel exploited by bean counters, MBAs and graduates of the Procter & Gamble University… — FF