Steven Johnson takes on the future of journalism and newspapers using the ecosystem metaphor that he successfully deployed in The Invention of Air. Johnson argues that journalism in the future will look a lot like how technology and politics are covered now because those two topics are the “old growth forests of the web”, i.e. they’ve been covered long enough on the web that old media has had time to adjust, react, and in many cases, go out of business in the face of that coverage.
The funny thing about newspapers today is that their audience is growing at a remarkable clip. Their underlying business model is being attacked by multiple forces, but their online audience is growing faster than their print audience is shrinking. As of January, print circulation had declined from 62 million to 49 million since my days at the College Hill Bookstore. But their online audience has grown from zero to 75 million over that period. Measured by pure audience interest, newspapers have never been more relevant. If they embrace this role as an authoritative guide to the entire ecosystem of news, if they stop paying for content that the web is already generating on its own, I suspect in the long run they will be as sustainable and as vital as they have ever been. The implied motto of every paper in the country should be: all the news that’s fit to link.
You may also enjoy Clay Shirky’s take on the same subject.