I was going to start a “no screens” time at 10:30 pm CST this evening and read more in my latest analog book, “Presentation Zen” by Garr Reynolds. Picking up our family’s iTouch and reading a bit in Google Reader (my 21st century free digital newspaper, don’t you know) changed that, however, and I feel obligated to share the following thought provoking paragraphs from Clay Shirkey’s post from Friday the 13th last month, “Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable.”

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.

Who is going to save journalism? We are. Live blog and webcast the local school board meeting? Sure. Our focus shouldn’t be, as Shirkey points out, “Who is going to save the newspapers?” The better question is, “Who is going to save journalism?” And the answer is: We are.

Welcome to the revolution.

I am Here for the Learning Revolution

Hat tip to my USAFA buddy and debate partner in 1989 for a bit, Jim Coyer, for this link. 🙂

If you’re interested, btw, my shared items from Google Reader are available here, in my blog’s right sidebar, on the “content” page of my personal website as a FriendFeed embed, and on my FriendFeed page directly. We couldn’t do all that sharing in the 20th century when we “read the news” with an analog newspaper, could we?!

Bring on the StoryChasers. Stay tuned, updates on that front are coming soon. The revolution is in progress.

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On this day..

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  • Interesting way of looking at this issue.

    I embrace all the new mediums for sharing investigation and good writing. And yet I for one, would miss physical newspapers. Something about the relaxation of sitting there with the physical paper while eating breakfast just wouldn’t be the same. (even though I also eat while reading things on my laptop).

    Sometimes I want a more “one dimensional, one at a time” experience when reading something–without the connectivity, interruption or distraction of being online. Other times I can’t wait to find the link to what I just read and share it. So it goes both ways.

    Some of the most powerful “grass roots” journalism I have witnessed happened on Daily Kos during the campaigns. And yet, the investigative journalism that a newspaper like the Post can pull together is also impressive.

    So many pros and cons to this issue, I guess, is the point.

    It is a new world, and it will be fascinating to see how it evolves.

    Thanks.

  • Carolyn: I have no doubt that many of us who have “known” newspapers in their analog/paper form will miss them. I don’t think my kids will, however, because I don’t know that they’ll have that many opportunities to develop an affinity for them. This reminds me of the point I’ve heard David Warlick make in presentations before, that the future of the printed book really isn’t in our hands.

    I’m growing more and more accustomed to reading most of my news on an iTouch or iPhone via Google Reader. One of the main things I love about it is I can star and share articles, and add my own comments to them (not on the respective sites, although I could do that, but I’m referencing the commenting built into Google Reader) as I read them. I have found the USA Today app for my iPhone far less desirable than Google Reader, since it is just passive / receive / read-only. I am growing use to this idea that I can “do” something with articles and information which I encounter online, including go back to those snippets to further reflect on or share them later.

    I think this is going to be a generational thing. It is kind of like saying today, “How many people miss reading scrolls?” Not many folks would answer affirmatively. I think the same will be true of newspapers in a generation.

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  • Interesting post, Wes. However, I am not at all sure of this sort of ‘them and us’ view of blogging etc vs mainstream media. See, for example, this article (by me) which discusses this in the context of the political scandal currently unfolding in Britain:

    http://terry-freedman.org.uk/artman/publish/article_1499.php

    And in this blog post called The Perils of Blogging, which takes a blogger to task and compares his ‘journalism’ unfavourably with that of ‘proper’ journalists:

    http://blogs.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/politics/2009/04/the_perils_of_blogging.html

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  • I think the thing which terrifies so many journalists is the question of reimbursement. Who is going to pay for the the work of gathering, processing, and disseminating the news? How are freelance news agents going to support themselves?

    Then there is the question of the reliability of our new news tools. At the moment, the tools we use for transmitting the news are mainstream media tools, like newspapers, as well as social networking tools.

    Well may we wonder, though, what happens when there is a second dot-com bust, and a bunch of the social networks we rely on for information cease to function? How will we get our news then, when the old print sources no longer exist? It is akin to the local stores going out of business when Wal-Mart and K-Mart show up, only to leave the community impoverished when the big box stores depart for lack of profitability.

  • While many web 2.0 sites are undoubtedly going to disappear at some point from a lack of profitability, overall blogging, social networking, and social web tools more generally are NOT going to go away. At least that’s what I see in my crystal ball.

    The idea of monetization is, of course, a key one. Why should the existing journalism models persist, however? Is it inherently good for individual media organizations to come to dominate a market? Shirkey describes how this happens with newspapers in many areas. I think the diversification of media sources is a good thing, particularly from a critical thinking perspective. I’m a fan of Neil Postman, and he pointed out years ago (in “Technopoly” and “Amusing Ourselves to Death,” among other places) that most people tend to accept and consume broadcast media very uncritically. That has needed to change for years. I think the diversity of voices and perspectives online can drive this need home more clearly than in the past, perhaps. We need more discussion about media literacy and media education.

    We’re not going to be suffering from a shortage of information or information sources anytime in the foreseeable future. The big players, however, are no longer going to carry the weight and influence they did in the past. Among other things, this means and will mean they won’t be able to command the control over advertising dollars which they’ve historically enjoyed. That, on balance, is a great thing in my view.

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