The Future of Journalism

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chris-perez-citygram-austinI was recently asked to present at a journalism conference at The University of Texas – organized by the ambitious student-run Orange magazine and framed around the question “What does the future of journalism look like in the advent of social media?”

This is an interesting topic not just because of the obvious ties I have to it as a publisher, but because I believe it also speaks to how we get information and communicate in the modern age.

The talk I gave – preceded by a professional panel of editors and journalists from Austin-American Statesman, Austin Monthly, Edible Austin, Latinitas, Naturally Fit, and The Texas Tribune – focused on blogging, technology, and how the intersection of the two has created a new consumer in the past six years.

In a fairly nascent world wide web, blogging was first introduced and popularized as an open journal – a way to share written words across a screen. At the same time, the modern age of technology was beginning to hit its stride, first providing people access to this new portal of content, then very quickly evolving to give the masses access to tools and possibilities that never before existed: compact and professional quality digital cameras, smartphones, and software, all at prices the average consumer could afford.

In a very short span of time, we saw blogs evolve into media empires – as they started creating and producing content on par with what before was reserved for the big production teams and national publisher’s like the Conde Nasts, the Hearsts and the Martha Stewarts. I cited a chart from Statista showing how print publications have seen drops in their circulation in the order of 20% since 2008 (coincidentally, the same year the Apple App Store was released) and how the more accessible, more social blogging platforms have now become our primary sources of information.

The ease of access to all this great (and mostly free) content has increased our media appetite. We no longer read just a handful of publications or news outlets. We read dozens. Just as technology has enabled us to be better content producers, it has also allowed us to be better content consumers. And instead of getting overwhelmed by all the new media channels, we clamor for more.

This consumer craving has saturated the market in a sense. Advertising driven media businesses and blogs are seeing their revenue decrease year over year, as more and more blogs reach viewership plateaus previously reserved for a small subset of outlets. Some of the most recognizable brands, such as Grace Bonney’s Design*Sponge, plan to combat this statistical reality by producing different types of content. In her “The State Of Our 2014 Blog Union” post (published this past January) Grace posits that, “smaller-scale updates that allow us to be more informal and operate in a more real-time world” could be a way to reach the new consumer. Offering a simple formula that “more platforms = more content = more inspiration = more people connecting and enjoying what you produce.”

Though I deeply respect and admire Grace, I can’t help but feel her approach is a precarious one – especially when considering the way we find web content is dependent on the search engine verb everyone uses to lead them there. Playing the search-friendly and shareable game is what causes us to see content become more and more generic – top 10 lists, celebrity quizzes, cats, and more cats. All, of which, are designed for us to click, like, share, and give the producer of the content exactly what they want – that increasingly less-valuable page view.

With a magazine, that game is a little less obvious (if you ignore the tabloids with Kim Kardashian on the cover). The most respected publications focus on telling a great story (unbound from a reader’s perceived attention span), speaking to topics that trigger thought or emotional response. Though Citygram is all-digital media, being published through a Newsstand app offers us the liberty to focus on telling stories because of their merit and intrinsic interest – not because they’re likely to generate a lot of search traffic.

In an ever-changing media landscape that seeks more quality from digital content and more access and utility from the traditional journalism feared to be dying, Citygram aims to artfully accomplish both – a crafted publication with articles and design as familiar as a printed page, and an already-in-your-pocket resource you can trust when you need a guide for where to go.

Starting with our Week 2 update (available February 27th) you’ll start seeing such a guide in each issue of Citygram Austin magazine – with an AFBA City Guide being the first iteration of our vision. The City Guide is a joint collaboration between Citygram and the Austin Food Bloggers Alliance – itself a unique phenomenon that is representative of the culture and personality of our city. Just as our magazine is voiced by writers we feel are tastemakers and experts in their field, each entry of the City Guide is voiced by an individual who feels they can offer insider guidance about a particular restaurant or food truck they believe in.

Flipping through this issue, I’m particularly proud of the stories we’re telling and the content we’re producing – none of it small-scale, none of it easy to produce, and none of it contrived for social likes. We are simply focused on making the best content we can make – creating articles that are as accessible as they are thoughtful.

This is the new media I believe in, and I’m hoping we’re onto something, because here the future of journalism has a future.


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This article originally published in The Admire Issue of Citygram Austin Magazine [February 2014].
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