Sunday, May 10, 2009

in search of new models

Thoughtful essay on the rise and fall of newspapers by Net guru Clay Shirky, and the need to focus on the future of journalism apart from the future of the newspaper model. Thought I had posted this before, but apparently not. Be sure to surf the comments.

From his essay:

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.

We don’t know who the Aldus Manutius of the current age is. It could be Craig Newmark, or Caterina Fake. It could be Martin Nisenholtz, or Emily Bell. It could be some 19 year old kid few of us have heard of, working on something we won’t recognize as vital until a decade hence. Any experiment, though, designed to provide new models for journalism is going to be an improvement over hiding from the real, especially in a year when, for many papers, the unthinkable future is already in the past.

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.

More to the point, i got up close and personal with many of these new models last week when I was frantically searching for up-to-date info on the Jesusita fire in Santa Barbara. What i found, to my chagrin, was that the majority of the news on the web was recycled from a few traditional print or broadcast sources, and usually several hours old. Probably the best source turned out to be the website for the Santa Barbara Independent, the local alt-weekly, which was updated continuously. One night, desperate for news as the sundowners were sending the fire racing down the canyons toward the city limits, I dound that the most current piece of info I could get via Google News came from Reuters India.

I also checked a bulletin board for twitter posts -- and tuned out once the board turned into a tweeting match over whether the conversation should or should not include news of an earthquake in nearby Ojai.

Meanwhile, my computer crashed continuously. bk

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