Shirky: News has to be subsidized, cheap, and free
Media theorist Clay Shirky has written a sequel, of sorts, to his 2009 blog post, "Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable." In that post, Shirky declared:
"There is no general model for newspapers to replace the one the Internet just broke. ... That is what real revolutions are like. The old stuff gets broken faster than the new stuff is put in its place. The importance of any given experiment isn’t apparent at the moment it appears; big changes stall, small changes spread. Even the revolutionaries can’t predict what will happen."
Today's post picks up the same theme. "This is the crisis, right now," Shirky writes. But he proposes a path through uncertainty: "Any way of creating news that gets cost below income, however odd, is a good way, and any way that doesn’t, however hallowed, is bad." As he prepares to teach in NYU's journalism program, Shirky says "there are only three things I’m sure of: News has to be subsidized, and it has to be cheap, and it has to be free."
"News has to be subsidized because society’s truth-tellers can’t be supported by what their work would fetch on the open market. ... Most people don’t care about the news, and most of the people who do don’t care enough to pay for it...
"News has to be cheap because cheap is where the opportunity is right now. ... If for-profit revenue is shrinking and non-profit funding won’t make up the shortfall, we need much cheaper ways of gathering, understanding, and disseminating news, whether measured in information produced or readers served.
"And news has to be free, because it has to spread. The few people who care about the news need to be able to share it with one another and, in times of crisis, to sound the alarm for the rest of us."
No single business model will work universally, he says. And the danger of having only media responsible for reporting has created "a single point of failure." The solution, he suggests, is the chaos of multiple competing approaches.