The rise of the Internet has threatened and transformed many institutions but perhaps none so much as journalism.  Technology has blurred the lines of who they are, what they provide and where they are going.  The latest batch of readings has explored what has already happened to journalism, what journalists are doing (or not) about it and where the industry might go.  Dave Winer’s “Readings from News Execs” showcases today’s top editors as seriously in denial.  Clay Shirky’s “Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable” talks about the death of newspapers as a revolution, a shifting of the news industry so great that we may not see its results in our lifetime.  Newspapers, he says, are already dead, but journalism isn’t.  But newspapers have spent so much time worrying about preserving their status quo that they’ve failed to realize that the unthinkable has already happened: they are all but obsolete.   The next set of readings focus in part on what these changes mean for the business of news.

Kevin Kelly, in his 1,000 True Fans suggests using The Long Tail as a way to make a living as an artist and that theory could easily be applied to journalists as well.  Report on something that only 1,000 people care about but if those 1,000 people are dedicated enough, they will sustain you financially.  There are a few people who have been wildly successful using that methodology; one of them is Nick Denton, head of Gawker Media.  Ben McGrath outlines Denton’s road to success in his piece “Search and Destroy: Nick Denton’s blog empire.” Denton has exploited several niche markets, aggregating several “1,000 True Fans” into a very lucrative business model.

A lot of the pieces we read posit that journalists have so far served as middlemen; they have gathered, organized and disseminated information to the public.  But the Internet has created an environment whereby journalists no longer have a monopoly on access.  So what is the journalist’s role now? Stephen Berlin Johnson proposes a plausible solution in that the old news institutions be the navigators for the new news platform, the web.  Because now we need organizers for both the long and the short tails.

One of the most compelling readings assigned is Peter Daou’s assessment of the limits of blogs.  It is true that technology is transforming our institutions but the revolution, as Shirky says, is ongoing.  For now, the institutions and the new technologies exist together and the power is shared.  The result of this revolution won’t be the fall of institutions and the rise of technology, it will be how they will inevitably merge to become the institutions of our future.  What Daou doesn’t talk about is that the three sides of the triangle are already merging.  The White House has a blog, every presidential candidate has a Twitter feed and campaigns are looking to the netroots for their hiring. The three sides are slowly but surely beginning to overlap.

Daou talks about politics in particular but his triangle theory and the questions he poses could be applied elsewhere as well.  For example, Amazon uses the three sides of the triangle too.  Its old establishment is its product — books.  It’s still a big part of what they sell; they are the world’s largest bookstore.  But it has used its netroots to become their media.  When users post product or book reviews, they are the journalists and Amazon.com is the newspaper.  I agree with Daou that these three components are the key to the institutions of our future, be it in politics, business or anything else.  But they are morphing and merging faster than Daou predicted in 2005.

 

Advertisements