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.
At the Web 2.0 conference, Clay Shirky gave a talk called Gin, Television, and Social Surplus. In it, he argues that the “social surplus” soaked up in the latter half of the 20th century by television is now being put to better use on the internet.
For the first time, society forced onto an enormous number of its citizens the requirement to manage something they had never had to manage before—free time. And what did we do with that free time? Well, mostly we spent it watching TV. We did that for decades. We watched I Love Lucy. We watched Gilligan’s Island. We watch Malcolm in the Middle. We watch Desperate Housewives. Desperate Housewives essentially functioned as a kind of cognitive heat sink, dissipating thinking that might otherwise have built up and caused society to overheat.
But maybe it’s possible that the internet is a slightly more sophisticated (or slightly more cognitive) cognitive heat sink?
Clay Shirky: good design requires a balance of arrogance and humility.
The iPod is an unanswerable repudiation to people who don’t believe design is arrogance; MySpace demonstrates that users prize participation, even at the expense of clarity.
Time magazine asks Moby, Malcolm Gladwell, Tim O’Reilly, Clay Shirky, David Brooks, Mark Dery, and Esther Dyson about their views on the future: religion, culture, politics, etc. Gladwell: “If I had to name a single thing that has transformed our life, I would say the rise of JetBlue and Southwest Airlines. They have allowed us all to construct new geographical identities for ourselves.”