Clay Shirky: "Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable"

Clay Shirky: "Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable"

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Hey, Clay just published a really important paper on the newspaper business.

The point is that the basis for the conventional newspaper model has gone away, meaning that we need to experiment a lot more.

Maybe a lot of this has been said, but he articulates the case really well, placing it in historical context. It applies to maybe all organizations.

Tangent: references to this paper are spreading it virally on Twitter, maybe elsewhere.

Society doesn’t need newspapers. What we need is journalism.

Revolutions create a curious inversion of perception. In ordinary times, people who do no more than describe the world around them are seen as pragmatists, while those who imagine fabulous alternative futures are viewed as radicals. The last couple of decades haven’t been ordinary, however. Inside the papers, the pragmatists were the ones simply pointing out that the real world was looking increasingly like the unthinkable scenario. These people were treated as if they were barking mad. Meanwhile the people spinning visions of popular walled gardens and enthusiastic micropayment adoption, visions unsupported by reality, were regarded not as charlatans but saviors.

When reality is labeled unthinkable, it creates a kind of sickness in an industry. Leadership becomes faith-based, while employees who have the temerity to suggest that what seems to be happening is in fact happening are herded into Innovation Departments, where they can be ignored en masse. This shunting aside of the realists in favor of the fabulists has different effects on different industries at different times. One of the effects on the newspapers is that many of its most passionate defenders are unable, even now, to plan for a world in which the industry they knew is visibly going away.

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