Yochai Benkler has a nice piece gently pushing back on some of the alarmism about the decline of newspapers. There are a couple of different parts to this, but one is simply the observation that the old media isn’t necessarily as consistently awesome as newspaper nostalgics make it out to be. The rest is observing that the opportunities for promising new forms of media are better than the nostalgics often seem willing to admit. Largely, though, whether one likes this trend or not is sort of irrelevant because everyone agrees that the world is changing. But the reason I think it’s important to be clear about this is that there clearly are some real downsides to what’s happening. And insofar as people are urging philanthropic action to help plug those gaps, it’s important to be precisely and clear-sighted about what the gaps really are and how they can be plugged effectively. As Benkler says:
Perhaps, as Starr proposes, there is room to enlist philanthropic support for local reporting. I would suspect, however, that doing so would achieve more if it created state-level online muckraking organizations with a generation of young journalists who have grown on the Net than by propping up older establishments that still depend on much higher ratios of organizational, financial, and physical capital to talent than the new, lighter, networked models permit. We are still very much at the beginning of the new era. It is indeed possible that news reporting, national or local, will prove more resistant to a shift to mixed networked models with a large role for social production in its creation than was true of operating systems, web server software, or an encyclopedia. But I doubt it.
Indeed. Part of what’s going on is that recent innovation seems to have had primarily non-commercial benefits—catastrophic for owners of media properties, bad for professional producers of media content, good for consumers of said content.