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Shirky's prophecy: Things to get weirder before they get saner

Shirky's prophecy: Things to get weirder before they get saner

Clay Shirky, journalism intellectual extraordinaire, was interviewed at Yale University for a conference on The New News Ecology: "Who will pay for the messenger?" by Leonard Witt for Sustainable Journalism.

Shirky started out with a fairly strong statement. His prediction for the future of journalism is basically that the world of news consumption and production is in the process of radical transformation that cannot be 'fixed,' so there is no fixing the whole or part of the 'problem' of faltering journalism these days.

So newspapers might very well be left behind.

To elaborate, Shirky said "we're entering an ecosystem where news gets produced and distributed and consumed in ways that are different and in some cases dramatically different from what we're used to. So, my prognostication is that things are going to get weirder before they get saner; they're going to get more diverse before we understand the new landscape we're in."

The scale of this 'revolution' is such that there cannot be any salvaging of the 20th century institutions and practices of the newspapers' heyday during their virtual monopoly on news and information. The 'new ecosystem' of journalism will be of many small organizations picking up the slack of the ancient and faltering traditional news bastions. Of course, these newcomers will be fully online and digitized.

His main concern is the protection, promotion and flourishing of quality and accountability journalism. Shirky thinks that the future of a patchwork of organizations doing accountability journalism will 'absolutely' produce quality and ethical journalism, as it is a public need in a democracy. ProPublica offers an excellent example of this.

Shirky continues to say that accountability journalism and networked interconnectedness is not lacking for those of the 'infovore elite' who pay to consume vast amounts of information. What's important is its availability for the average Joe Sixpack in a small city or town that is now vulnerable to corruption due to the downfall of traditional newspapers and the accountability journalism they harbored.

The real question now, Shirky says, is the availability to the masses of "accountability journalism being produced that keeps their town, their region, their state operating in relatively efficient, relatively responsive, and relatively non-corrupt ways... The focus really needs to be, what does a citizen, put in the U.S. context, what does a citizen in a town of half a million people or less need from accountability journalism?"

Certainly food for thought. However improved our lives have gotten as a result of the free flow of information in the internet age of the interconnected world, Shirky doesn't see that benefit coming to a large portion of folks outside of world capitals.

"One of the bad things I think it going to happen is, I think civic corruption is just going to rise for towns and regions of under about half a million people," he said. "Which is to say, I think the old model of the newspaper is going to break faster than the hyperlocal civic reporting can come in its place."

So if you're a small town or city reporter, know that there is a gap in the market for you. You can help out your fellow neighbor and your country by engaging in accountability journalism at a local or regional level.

Many online initiatives to this end are already in the works, but it still isn't exactly easy to walk into a town or city council to see who is corrupt. And I agree with Shirky in that "I don't see the web rushing in to fill that job."

Source: Sustainable Journalism



Nestor Bailly


2009-12-02 17:22

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