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Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Intellectual freedom in Canada: Is the future of journalism ... a hobby?

My friend Kathy Shaidle of Five Feet of Fury sends me this interesting post by Seth Godin on what the Internet means to the future of publishing:
Magazines and newspapers were perfect businesses for a moment of time, but they wouldn't have worked in 1784, and they're not going to work very soon in the future either.

We're always going to need writers, but the business model of their platform is going to change.

People will pay for content if it is so unique they can't get it anywhere else, so fast they benefit from getting it before anyone else, or so related to their tribe that paying for it brings them closer to other people. We'll always be willing to pay for souvenirs of news, as well, things to go on a shelf or badges of honor to share.

People will not pay for by-the-book rewrites of news that belongs to all of us. People will not pay for yesterday's news, driven to our house, delivered a day late, static, without connection or comments or relevance. Why should we? A good book review on Amazon is more reliable and easier to find than a paid-for professional review that used to run in your local newspaper, isn't it?

Like all dying industries, the old perfect businesses will whine, criticize, demonize and most of all, lobby for relief. It won't work. The big reason is simple:

In a world of free, everyone can play
Interesting. There was a time when books were the preserve of scholars. Printing technology changed all that. It also created a professional class of people who sorted news for others. Indeed, social class was often reflected in which paper one's household subscribed to. See this snatch of dialogue from Rumpole of the Bailey:

It seems he's just remarried and his new wife takes in the Daily Beacon.

How odd?

What's odd?

A judge's wife reading the Beacon.

Hugh Fishwick married his cook, Ballard told him in solemn tones.

Really? I didn't know. Well, that explains it.
And journalists?
There may be more of them, not fewer, as the ability to participate in journalism extends beyond the credentialed halls of traditional media. But they may be paid far less, and for many it won’t be a full time job at all. Journalism as a profession will share the stage with journalism as an avocation. Meanwhile, others may use their skills to teach and organize amateurs to do a better job covering their own communities, becoming more editor/coach than writer. If so, leveraging the Free—paying people to get other people to write for non-monetary rewards—may not be the enemy of professional journalists. Instead, it may be their salvation.
So to journalists everywhere, I say, don't feel bad; it's not you. It's not mistakes you made. It's not bad guys.

Our industry grew up in an era when people needed pros to sort news. That was so you didn't have to wade through the senseless crime-of-the-day from the Beacon when you really needed the bond market news from the Financial Gazette. Today, people can sort their own news. If I never, ever want to hear from the Beacon, I can easily arrange matters so that I never do.

That is the fundamental reason that journalists are less necessary than before. And it will develop in that direction.

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