Monday, October 12, 2009

Moron Babbling More On Babbling

What's Next for News: A Conversation About the Future of Journalism (Part 1) from J-Source on Vimeo.

Yes, I am going to babble about journalism and Clay Shirky here for a bit. Pardon me for thinking this is interesting stuff. Like Charlie Brown, I have long borne an interest in failure, though my interest here is not in the failure of journalism but primarily in my failure at journalism. I do enjoy reading waht Shirky has to say on the subject, because he's just about the only one out there saying that the problem has only been identified tenuously and that the solutions aren't yet on the horizon. I tend to buy into that philosophy.

So watch the video, skipping about the first seven minutes (and then going on to the other four parts). The first seven minutes are a long introduction to the topic and of the speakers, and can be skipped if you're already familiar with Shirky.

I should note I'm only about halfway through the lecture, so I'll likely add to this post as I go along. So far, however, he's brought up some interesting points.

First among them is that there isn't one single, clear cause for the economic struggles journalism is going through. I call this an economic struggle because, for the most part, the news part of journalism is doing bearably well. Shirky points out three principal causes:

1. Business plan is collapsing. The idea that advertising and subscriptions can pay for journalism isn't working any more. That's nothing new, of course.

2. The way content is being bundled is changing, fron an economic bundle to an intellectual bundle. This is perhaps the most intriguing of Shirky's points. He offered this example: After a crossword fanatic has completed a crossword puzzle in the paper, what's the next thing he or she should be offered? His answer: Another crossword puzzle, and not an Associated Press story on the coup in Honduras. That's how newspapers work these days -- they offer a lot of disparate bits of content in one package. The Internet is allowing content providers and individuals to package their own content as they want to see it. This is a grat advantage, but also a great worry, as we move from the Daily What's Going on in the World to the Daily Me -- which encourages, in some, a bit more selfishness and flatness than in the economic bundle (so called because with a paper, it's economical to bundle all of that different stuff together). Yes, people have always skipped through the paper and read only what they want to read, but at least the information was there. Same situation on the Internet, except is't much easier to compartmentalize.

3. The Shock of Inclusion. This is also a significant cause. Because individuals can aggregate and compartmentalize what they choose to consume, and because they can interact with news organizations on a much more intimate level than in the past, the traditional newspaper indsutry is being shocked by the level of interaction and at how much people want to be included in the news, from commenting, berating, or suggesting. Of course, any editor can tell you that people who want to scream at a newspaper reporter or offer a raft of story ideas aren't shy about picking up the phone and making their wants and wishes known, but the advent of social media is making that task much simpler than pikcing up the telephone -- and it helps avoid that pesky face-to-face interaction that causes troublesome things like compromise and reason to enter into the conversation (as you can tell, I'm not a real fan of the way the Internet has made commentary so easy and so one-sided and so anonymous).

What's interesting is that Shirky says journalism is the first industry to see such upheavals in its ecosystem. To my view, it's the second. The music industry has seen these three effects, and are struggling with the economic realities of dealing with them, just as much as the newspaper business is. The intellectual bundle versus economic bundle cause is certainly evident, as people are tired of buying the bundle of a few good songs from a band coupled with other bad songs from the same band and are instead buying individual songs, or stealing them outright. There's your shock of inclusion -- the music industry has struggled with piracy, and are experimenting with DRM and such, with comical results, some of which are leading the fringes to challenge the concept of intellectual property rights. I don't like that path at all.

I don't buy into the notion that with ecosystem upheaval that the moral and ethical underpinnings of our society have to change. Thou Shalt Not Steal still sounds pretty good to me, because THou Shalt Not Steal Except in a Digital Age is a bit Orwellian.

But some of the experiments have been comical. DRM effectively limited how an individual could share music with a friend. Nothing stops us from loaning a physica CD to a buddy, why should the same be said of digital copies? Amazon currently allows only a certain, limited number of devices to hold the same purchased e-book, though there are no limitations on the number of times a physical copy of a book can be passed around. No author or artist is getting money from used book or CD sales, either. So the experiments continue. As Shirky says, "In times of disruption, experimentation beats planning by a long shot."

Of course, as with many things, there are limits to experimentation. Behold:

So, no pee-powered cars. Yet.

Linkee: Ars Technica has an interesting story on the arguments "Big Content" has brought up against things from player pianos to the Internet. A fun read.

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