Clay Shirky, who does a lot of good thinking (see his latest book) about the social and economic effects of internet technologies, has posted a new piece on the slow but steady demise of the newspaper. It’s an intelligent, not entirely lengthy, piece. Here’s a quick quote to whet your appetite:
Round and round this [debate], with the people committed to saving newspapers demanding to know “If the old model is broken, what will work in its place?” To which the answer is: Nothing. Nothing will work. There is no general model for newspapers to replace the one the internet just broke.
With the old economics destroyed, organizational forms perfected for industrial production have to be replaced with structures optimized for digital data. It makes increasingly less sense even to talk about a publishing industry, because the core problem publishing solves — the incredible difficulty, complexity, and expense of making something available to the public — has stopped being a problem…
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.
And while I’m on this topic, let me also direct your attention to a piece published on Mashable by a recent colleague of mine, Woody Lewis. It gives you a good look at the 10 Ways Newspapers are Using Social Media to Save the Industry (assuming that can be done).