Independent publications not as important anymore

Cadence Design's Brian Fuller dusted off his personal blog on Journalism last week and asked a question he's asked before: Are journalists/editors necessary?

The question comes on word of two major personnel losses at EE Times -- Dylan McGrath and Peter Clarke -- and is one that I answered in the affirmative several months ago.  But as I read his piece I was struck by one particular graf.

"But there’s a sense of unhappiness in our ranks. We can crank out that content all day long, but if there’s no one to validate it or call B.S., then we become an industry of echo chambers."

If that's the way veteran journalists respond to the changes in the industry, then we should despair.  But I think, now, that Brian's asking the wrong question.  Are independent publications necessary?  My answer is, not as much as in the past.

This is something I've said in other ways in the past, but I think journalists have lost a bit of spine in the past half century, relying on the illusion of independence provided by their employment. That corporate shield is going away, but the need for an independent voice has not. As corporate journalism, especially in the B2B sectors continues to contract the vacuum is, in fact, being replaced by a more egalitarian, though inelegant solution -- the voice of the audience. (watch our video discussion of this)

And it is going to take trained journalists, acting truly independently although under the employ of another industry's corporations, to help give them a platform.

Something I've learned in the past year is that customers generally have a better understanding of a corporation's products than anyone in the corporation does.  But there are myriad barriers to getting that perspective out in the sunlight where it can do some good. Not the least of those barriers is the belief in a corporation that the customer is stupid and needs to be led.  Journalists in corporate employ, like Brian, have a unique opportunity, as well as skill, to get that information into the hands of current and prospective customers.  They could not do it when they worked in a publication for fear of not being "objective" but within a corporation they can find that nugget that completely avoids the engineering, marketing, sales and C-suite minions.  That is an incredible value to everyone.

That does not mean that the independent publication is useless. Not every company can afford to hire an in-house journalist full time, nor can they all run their own publications.  Small, niche publishing houses like Tech Focus Media and publishing behemoths like UBM fill the need of a platform for those companies (who should be paying for the benefit, BTW), but the days of an independent media adequately covering an entire industry disappeared in 1999.

This is the age of the truly ethical and independent journalist and it doesn't matter who we work for.  Our ethical standards belong to us, not a corporate master.  The truly ethical corporation will see the benefit in this and will bury their less ethical competition.