What’s Next

Many of you couldn’t give a hoot about the plight of newspapers and the future of media. If you’re one of the hootless, please move along.

If you do hoot, then you have some must-reading today, in the form of Clay Shirky’s devestatingly insightful post about the death of newspapers and how, for all of our squawking about it, most of us still don’t believe it’s happening at all:

That is what real revolutions are like. The old stuff gets broken faster than the new stuff is put in its place. The importance of any given experiment isn’t apparent at the moment it appears; big changes stall, small changes spread. Even the revolutionaries can’t predict what will happen. Agreements on all sides that core institutions must be protected are rendered meaningless by the very people doing the agreeing. (Luther and the Church both insisted, for years, that whatever else happened, no one was talking about a schism.) Ancient social bargains, once disrupted, can neither be mended nor quickly replaced, since any such bargain takes decades to solidify.

And so it is today. When someone demands to know how we are going to replace newspapers, they are really demanding to be told that we are not living through a revolution. They are demanding to be told that old systems won’t break before new systems are in place. They are demanding to be told that ancient social bargains aren’t in peril, that core institutions will be spared, that new methods of spreading information will improve previous practice rather than upending it. They are demanding to be lied to.

There are fewer and fewer people who can convincingly tell such a lie.

UPDATE: a couple of people have sent me snarky emails about not wanting to read another “newspapers are dead, man” article. Let me clarify: this is not one of those. I mean, it goes with that a bit, but the real meat here is Shirky’s explanation about how anything anyone says about what to do about it is rather meaningless at the moment. In so doing he makes what I feel to be a rather illuminating comparison of our current situation and Europe in the time of Gutenberg. He also makes the point that many others have sort of made, but none too concisely:

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.

I know many are tired of this subject, but really, if you want to speak intelligently about the media, what it is and where it’s going, you’re going to have to engage with the points in Shirky’s post.

Print Friendly
 Share on Facebook0Tweet about this on Twitter0Share on Google+0Share on Reddit0Email this to someone
« Previous: Gods and Mortals
Next: Credit crunch? What credit crunch? »


  1. YankeesfanLen said...

    I happen to like newspapers, have four of them delivered a day, and some of the pertinent parts e-mailed from a fifth (how many pertinent points can be made with a fifth. oh. that’s tomorrow but I digress)
    The point is, much is lost by not being able to page through these daily documents and “stumble upon” an article or opinion that enriches.
    Yahoo might be able to feed baseball news from half a dozen outlets, including this one, however a newspaper section might lead you to the results from Aquaduct once in a while as well.
    Welcome back, Jorge!!!

  2. Millsy said...

    I would argue the other way around Yankeesfan.  The internet is built upon ‘stumbling upon’ (redundant, yes).  While I agree that thumbing through a newspaper has a similar nostalgia to thumbing through a book (rather than that silly newfangled reading machine Amazon sells), I think the argument that coming across a broader range of media in papers than the internet is incorrect.  Just go to Yahoo.com or CBS.com, or whatever outlet you want to read, and you’ll see hundreds of links to articles that would never be shown on the front page of a newspaper…right there on the front page of a site.

    If it’s diversity in news topics you need, CNN or other sites absolutely provide that.  The advantage of the internet is that it allows the consumer to customize news that matters to them most.  If you choose to get a liberal intake of media, you are able to do that as well…and with much more ease than a newspaper (and less black fingers).

    If it’s quality in journalism you need, then I think this article helps to push that point.  I assure you that getting your sports news from CBS is far from ‘quality’.

  3. YankeesfanLen said...

    I do not disagree, Millsy, just take another way around it by using both sources- perhaps newspaper first, web or blog second, and then google to find out everything.
    The internet is far more productive than, say, the local TV news where they spend 25 minutes an hour telling you what they’re going to tell you for the remaining 35 minutes.  If I want the weather I do not wish to listen to teasers that say the full report will be 20 minutes hence when my Yahoo screen will tell me immediately, newspapers will take a minute to thumb through, the radio will have it in 10 minutes or less.
    SOME websites come and go in a year, at least newspapers, if indeed on the rocks, have had a several hundred year span.
    It’s like anything else, you use what you find most productive and comfortable with, there is so much information that doesn’t draw your interest you have to “edit” somewhere.

  4. Millsy said...

    Good points, Yankeesfan.  Ah yes…gotta love Fox News:

    “Automatic doors at grocery stores…taking limbs and even lives!”

    Real segway I heard years ago for DC’s Fox 5 News at 10.

  5. Silver King said...

    I agree with RobRob, as I caught up on the Stewart-Cramer thing yesterday.  Journalism is what Stewart is demanding / begging for, and Cramer is serving as a representative of noisy lack of it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>