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Jan 30 / King Kaufman

Why you should care about why news startups are booming

One thing about being an aspiring journalist—not to mention any other kind of journalist—is that the business changes so fast it’s hard to keep up with what it means to be a journalist in the first place.

That’s a problem. It’s also very exciting. I don’t think there’s ever been a more interesting time to be in this racket.

Ken Doctor, a media analyst and consultant who writes the weekly “Newsonomics” column for Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab, has written an informative take on what seems to be the dominant trend in digital journalism circles. The headline: “The newsonomics of why everyone seems to be starting a news site.”

Bloggers turned journalism superstars Glenn Greenwald, Ezra Klein and Nate Silver are among those who have either launched or are leading new ventures. Doctor digs into the factors behind the phenomenon, and that’s worth reading even if you won’t likely be launching your own $25 million news site any time soon.

Doctor’s story is a business trend report, and, perhaps because there’s no mention of sports other than Silver’s association with ESPN, that might not strike you as interesting. But it should be if you’re in the midst of or considering a career as a sportswriter. Doctor is writing about the landscape of our business:

Journalists are more mobile than ever. People now bring along their own audiences. Just look at the Twitter followings and some of those in the news. Nate Silver: 653,000. Ezra Klein: 422,000. Glenn Greenwald: 326,000. Matt Yglesias: 100,000. Digital access and social sharing mean that both twentysomethings and veteran voices can develop big followings in a short time …

In the old days, superior regional talent, like that of The Miami Herald’s legendary Sunday magazine, would migrate to The Washington Post and stay there. Now, people come, people go. The movement that we’ve seen growing over the past several years will only increase as legacy and startup news companies compete and journalists balance the massive traffic, brand support, and stability the old brands offer against to the allure of the new and of building their own brand and products.

There are people thriving in this fast-moving environment, and I’ll tell you one thing they all have in common: They have not been incurious about or dismissive of the changes roiling the industry.

Half a decade ago—an eternity!—a video got passed around showing elite Beltway media pundits responding to a question C-SPAN hosts had begun asking: “Are you on Twitter?” The video was six solid minutes of journalism titans joking about how they didn’t think anybody would care about what they had for lunch.

Here were some of the top people in the profession responding to something that—it was already evident—had a chance to become a major factor in that industry with complete indifference. They couldn’t have been bothered to actually engage with it, use it, think about its consequences or potential strengths and weaknesses. They’d heard—from each other—that it was people talking about what they’d eaten for lunch, so … meh.

Don’t be those people. You’re not going to see any of them mentioned in stories about the exciting things that are happening in journalism.