Clay Shirky on the Demise of the Newspaper

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).

via Clay Shirky’s Twit­ter Feed

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