Sunday, August 09, 2009

On the future of journalism

I don't know who Clay Shirky is.

I do know that he has articulated much of what I've been thinking about the future of journalism in an excellent blog post that I stumbled upon today.

For a few months I've been casually batting around the problem of separating journalists from newspapers - an event that appears to me to be inevitable. Our country was founded after the invention of the press, and wrote it into the constitution.

Now that the press has suffered its final mortal wound courtesy of Craig Newmark, we have a pressing need to separate and sustain the credible journalists as we move into the future. As Clay's post points out, most of the solutions proposed and employed to date are less about preserving the journalist and more about preserving the paper, and as such are destined to fail because news isn't being delivered in paper anymore.

So, what key elements are likely to be in place in the post paper world of journalism?

Here are my guesses:
  • A distinct meritocracy
The information hubs will do their best to promote the "brand" by signing good journalists to exclusive contracts, but generally the cream will rise to the top no matter which hub that particular author signs on to. The rise or fall of any given journalist will be more closely tied to his personal ability than ever before.
  • An expansion of the fringe
I think that social networking tools like StumbleUpon, Digg, etc will allow people to self-sort the type of news that they are exposed to. As such the hard-core elements of either political extreme will be able to find unending mountains of information affirming their pre-concieved beliefs. The idea of a meritocracy will manifest itself here as well, since the most eloquent preacher will be constantly linked to by the choir, regardless of denomination.
  • A loss of operational expenses
Journalism has been a highly subsidized commodity for a long time. The removal of a subsidiary form of income will handcuff individual journalists who require certain travel and salary resources in order to do their work. Text is unique on the internet and in journalism in that the degree to which you hold it back and demand payment it is the degree to which you lose effective distribution of the facts contained within. This means that journalists are going to have to seek a new subsidy instead of direct payment for their work.

Its a brave new world out there, and we're all pushing it along. Here's hoping we figure something workable out.

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