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While many entrenched in the media industry are trying to find ways to prop up the traditional model of print - micropayments, subscription models, media cartels - in the face of economic turmoil, some thinkers - Steven Berlin Johnson and Clay Shirky among them - believe that this attempt at life support is only delaying their inevitable demise or perhaps, reorder. Even as the newspapers continue to sound the rallying cry of, “You’ll miss us when we’re gone,” Johnson and Shirky seem to be of the mindset that despite the rocky times we’re sure to face, new models will develop to replace the old ones. In other words, we’ll get by, somehow. And while neither man claims to be a soothsayer for what sort of media landscape lies ahead, they’ve got some interesting thoughts on the subject just the same.
Johnson, examines the future through the lens of the past using his model of media as ecosystem, likening the rise of information from a virtual dessert - a single perspective on a single platform - to the diversity of an old growth forest - multiple perspectives on multiple platforms. This variety and rapidity of the news cycle piggybacking onto the prominence of the internet as a distribution center to bring us to the point where we find ourselves now. He argues that while much of what’s happening on the web still relies on old school media as a primary source, the longer we “live” in the context of the web the less this scenario will pose challenges.
Johnson suggests traditional media start doing to the online sector what is increasingly done to them -excerpt. He shares some wisdom courtesy of Jeff Jarvis, “Do what you do best, and link to the rest.” This Johnson notes, could free newspapers to return to their roots and refocus on their main strength - long form journalism - which is what Shirky has been pulling for all along, sort of. Shirky feels that it’s not the institutions that need saving, but the journalists themselves. 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.