Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Whither the newspaper industry?

Building off of some of Nikhil's recent postings, here are some other thoughts about the continuation of journalism by other means as the traditional newspaper industry continues to face economic erosion. They come from a blog posting by Clay Shirky that was forwarded to me by a good friend, Mike Johansson. Fittingly given the ideas in Skirky's essay, Mike is a former newsroom colleague of mine at the Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat and Chronicle who since his departure from the paper last summer has been working at promoting the power of social media.

Shirky writes (excerpts):

"With the old economics destroyed, organizational forms perfected for industrial production have to be replaced with structures optimized for digital data. It makes increasingly less sense even to talk about a publishing industry, because the core problem publishing solves — the incredible difficulty, complexity, and expense of making something available to the public — has stopped being a problem.

"Society doesn’t need newspapers. What we need is journalism. For a century, the imperatives to strengthen journalism and to strengthen newspapers have been so tightly wound as to be indistinguishable. That’s been a fine accident to have, but when that accident stops, as it is stopping before our eyes, we’re going to need lots of other ways to strengthen journalism instead.

"When we shift our attention from 'save newspapers’ to 'save society’, the imperative changes from ‘preserve the current institutions’ to ‘do whatever works.’ And what works today isn’t the same as what used to work.

"For the next few decades, journalism will be made up of overlapping special cases. Many of these models will rely on amateurs as researchers and writers. Many of these models will rely on sponsorship or grants or endowments instead of revenues. Many of these models will rely on excitable 14 year olds distributing the results. Many of these models will fail. No one experiment is going to replace what we are now losing with the demise of news on paper, but over time, the collection of new experiments that do work might give us the journalism we need."

Read Shirky's full article here, or at the link appropriately used Mike, through TwitPwr.

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