I'd been meaning to do a follow-up post collecting the responses to my SXSW speech on "Old Growth Media And The Future of News," but I kept putting it off because new articles and posts continued to roll in, and stitching them all together started to seem a little daunting. I've certainly never given a speech that generated so much discussion before, which tells you a little about how passionate people are about this issue right now.
The volume of response also underscores the value of releasing an essay version of a speech more or less simultaneously with the speech itself -- a trick I learned from my old friend Clay Shirky, who, entirely by coincidence, posted his own essay on the newspaper crisis the day I gave my speech in Austin. You'll see Clay's excellent essay mentioned in many of the links below; if you haven't had a chance to read it, be sure to check it out. For the most part, I think Clay and I approach the situation today from a similar perspective. Where we differ, I think, is in our sense of what the next model will be, or how knowable that next model is right now. Clay writes:
So who covers all that news if some significant fraction of the currently employed newspaper people lose their jobs?
I don’t know. Nobody knows. We’re collectively living through 1500, when it’s easier to see what’s broken than what will replace it. The internet turns 40 this fall. Access by the general public is less than half that age. Web use, as a normal part of life for a majority of the developed world, is less than half that age. We just got here. Even the revolutionaries can’t predict what will happen.
I suspect it's not quite all that mysterious, at least in the short-term, the scale of a decade or so. (Largely because the pace of technological advance and adoption is so much faster than in Gutenberg's time.) That's the whole point of the "old-growth" metaphor: that the entire ecosystem of news is going to look more and more like the technology news ecological niche that has been evolving for the past fifteen years. I'm hoping to write a bit more about the economics of this new model in the coming weeks; my colleague at outside.in, Mark Josephson, has already started explaining some of our thinking on the economics of local news. Expect much more from both of us on this topic shortly.
For now, though, here's a representative sample of responses to the SXSW speech that I put together this morning. If you've seen others, send them to me and I will try to add them over the next few days.
A week after I left Austin, the superb NPR show On Point devoted an hour to the issues I'd talked about in the speech; I was joined by Monica Guzman, one of the remaining journalists at the Seattle PI, and the always stimulating David Carr, of the New York TImes. On Point's Wen Stephenson wrote a lovely blog post afterwards, ruminating on Monica's clear enthusiasm for the PI's new online-only life, and reflecting back on the years Wen and I spent in the mid-nineties helping to figure out the rules of Web 1.0 publishing.
Mark Morford at the SF Gate delivered an excellent rant against the "geek gurus" (that would be Clay and me) that got my middle initial wrong but was otherwise a great incentive to write up another essay on the economics of all of this:
Steven P. Johnson's notion of a new media "ecosystem" seems to come closest to understanding the challenges facing the future of journalism, insofar as he at least gives decent props to the need for professional editors and journalistic know-how. The pros still have a big role in his vision. Alas, who will actually pay them and how the model will emerge not merely as an information engine, but also an economic one, well, he never manages to say. In fact, none of them do. Because no one had a goddamn clue.
Moford might want to look at this post from Jonathan Weber of New West Networks, as a good description of a working business model for local journalism:
As a four-year veteran of a journalism-driven local online media start-up, I believe there’s a very viable business formula that’s actually quite simple, and here today: take advantage of new tools and techniques to cover the news creatively and efficiently; sell sophisticated digital advertising in a sophisticated fashion; keep the Web content free, and charge a high price for content and interaction that are delivered in-person via conferences and events. And don’t expect instant results.
David Crow looked at the speech in the context of Canadian news organizations:
Steven Johnson gave a great talk at SxSW about the recent history of publishing and distribution of news. His vision includes a role for organizations like CBC and other traditional media outlets. The validation, accreditation, accountability and editing of the abundance of news and news sources. The goal is to build relevance, trust and accountability for news consumers. To be agile and embrace new distribution and business models.
And then there's Andrew Keen in the Independent, who wrote that the UK newspaper business had better heed "the gloomy words of a couple of [America's] most lucid internet prophets." Did I really come across as gloomy in that speech? I was trying to be upbeat!
I know I've missed multiple posts and stories that I read in the first days after the talk, so please do send those links in if you have them. And thanks everyone for such thoughtful feedback....