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Legal newsrooms may be shrinking, but coverage is increasing via blogs

December 2, 2014

The New York Times’ David Carr (Carr2n) writes that like most of us he is a big fan of disruption until it hits close to home.

One hundred New York Times’ staffers have until Monday to accept early buyouts. A generous buyout combined with a questionable future means longtime fellow employees of Carr’s are considering leaving.

Carr shares that the Times is going to lose decades of professional experience, journalists with deep sources and remarkable levels of productivity.

It’s hard to put a price on what those hard-won skills are worth. The Times will always be bigger than any one individual and will no doubt find people inside and outside the building who will do their own version of amazing things, but it’s still scary to think about making our way without some of the people who plan to leave. We need to adapt quickly to new protocols, but we can’t lose the core, the journalism that makes The Times The Times.

It is scary to think of what we could lose in investigative reporting alone, but media has been as disrupted as much as any industry — and we’re not going back.

The shift of news and information to the Internet meant that the heavy investment in trucks and presses that once served as a barrier to entry disappeared. Insurgents flooded in with new approaches that eliminated much of the inefficiency and created whole new streams of content. Again, great for consumers, not so great for the traditional news industry, because those inefficiencies were also profits by another name.

Commenting on these same layoffs, GigaOm’s Mathew Ingram (@mathewi), writes that newsrooms may be shrinking — but journalism is growing.

…[W]e should be careful not to conflate the issue of declining staff levels in traditional newsrooms with the health of journalism overall. Just because thousands of people are no longer employed as full-time reporters or editors by a select number of mainstream news publications doesn’t mean journalism itself isn’t alive and well — and even growing.

How so?

…[S]ince we’re talking about the New York Times: former managing editor Jim Roberts joined Mashable as editor-in-chief, and has been staffing up that company’s newsroom fairly aggressively, boosting it from 35 to 55, and looking to add more. That probably doesn’t appear in the above numbers.

Former executive editor Bill Keller, meanwhile, has joined a new-media startup focused on the justice system, called The Marshall Project, which has also been hiring. And his replacement, Jill Abramson, hasn’t let being fired slow her down — she and media entrepreneur Steve Brill are looking for financial support to launch a new media entity that will sell subscriptions and pay writers for long-form journalism.

In addition to the mainstream media, we’ve seen major disruption in the legal trade media. ALM publishes no where near the number of publications it once did. (stand corrected on number of ALM publications per comments below) Various state and local legal periodicals have shrunk significantly or closed altogether. Bar publications are shedding expenses.

This, with the contraction of the mainstream media covering the law, low barriers to entry, and publishing to the long tail via legal niches, has actually led to a rise in legal journalism.

Lawyers blogging on niche areas of the law, in some cases with a state or metro focus, are reporting on areas never covered by traditional journalists – let alone replacing what those journalists covered. The ABA Journal’s directory of law blogs is over 3,800 strong.

LexBlog, admittedly small, does employ 35 people as a new media company. Many of our employees went to journalism school. Our network of lawyers are producing close to 75,000 pieces a year for LXBN.

Look at the some of legal publications new media has brought us. Food Safety News, sponsored by the Marler Clark law firm, employs a number of seasoned journalists and has been recognized the leading publication on food safety by the food industry itself.

Cruise Law News, published by Attorney Jim Walker, has blown the doors off the cruise industry and has grown to be one the most widely read digital publications in the law.

My point is that the decline in traditional media has opened the doors for lawyers to publish. Heck, law firms who have relied on public relations and press coverage to establish thought leadership status, may need to self-report. The reporters they’ve talked to may not be around much longer.

As we see a decline in traditional newsrooms which have covered the law, expect to see an increase in media coverage of the law. Coverage by seasoned, caring, and passionate blogging lawyers.

Image courtesy of Flickr by Andy Piper

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