Is the future…possibly…bright?

The future for printed daily papers has looked gloomy for so long that people have forgotten what sunlight looks like. I’ve seen a cluster of pieces in the last few days which stare into the future and they share two striking characteristics: they are more optimistic than pessimistic (about news publishing if not about print) and they see a role for something definable called journalism.

If you only have time to look at one of these, read James Fallows on Google and journalism. The history of news media shows that journalism is always being turned upside down and Fallows talked to the top Googlies about how they see the latest revolution.

To whet your appetite here are two short passages to illustrate why this piece is upbeat and required reading. Google-bashing is daft: the Google thinkers may not be right about everything but they are smart enough to be worth arguing with. Fallows noted that people in Google are finding it easier to think about how to sustain journalism because they are not in the newspapers business. He illustrates it like this:

“People inside the press still wage bitter, first-principles debates about whether, in theory, customers will ever be willing to pay for online news, and therefore whether “paywalls” for online news can ever succeed. But at Google, I could hardly interest anyone in the question. The reaction was: of course people will end up paying in some form why even talk about it?”

Fallows talked to Khrishna Bharat, who invented Google News and who probably samples more news output from more sources than anyone on the planet. Bharat observed to Fallows that he was surprised by the predictable, pack-like response of most of the world’s media to most stories. Bharat goes on: “Once something has been observed, nearly everyone says the same thing….It makes you wonder, is there a better way? I believe the news industry is finding that it will not be able to sustain producing highly similar articles.”

This is a profoundly important point. Give that the internet allows us to compare more quickly across continents and cultures, the costs of entropy are higher than ever. And if that’s the case should orginality and variety be correspondingly more highly valued?

(If you think I’m getting a bit carried away here, try this sceptical note on Fallows from Dale Peskin. He doesn’t think lava lamps will save newspapers. He’s right.)

Not on the same theme, but robustly defending a role for journalism in the future is Frederic Filloux of the MondayNote on the “oxymoronic citizen journalist“. He’s overstating the case (mostly hostile reactions here), but I confess that I like this piece because it recommends a recent lecture of mine.

Then I noticed this interview with Mario Tedeschini-Lalli, internet R&D head for the Expresso group in Italy, also reasoning that in the new era there’s a point – and a demand – for journalism as an organised skill.

The last piece I can only recommend since I can only so far link to a German version. But I can read just enough to know that this another antidote to pessimism by the online editor of Die Zeit, Wolfgang Blau. If I see a translation or summary in English, I’ll post it.

One swallow (or even four) doesn’t make a summer and all that. But I’m detecting more practical determination, less moaning and glooming. Good trend.


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1 comment

  1. Funny that when the open market is involved – as it is for freelance journalism – “originality and variety” are all important. Good editors do not accept unoriginal pitches.

    Yet journalists who work in a newsroom every day, who are employed by a company, tend to flock to the same press conferences as their colleague at the competing newsgathering operation in town.