Shirky, State of the Media Make the Case for Risk

Avoiding risk is a risk we can no longer afford.

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If you find yourself debating a new approach to news, consider the similar conclusions of two very different reports.

In a post to his blog on Friday night, NYU professor and Internet thinker Clay Shirky argues that the best hope for journalism’s future lies in aggressive experimentation. Excerpts:

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… Experiments are only revealed in retrospect to be turning points…

When we shift our attention from ‘save newspapers’ to ‘save society,’ the imperative changes from ‘preserve the current institutions’ to ‘do whatever works.’ And what works today isn’t the same as what used to work…

No one experiment is going to replace what we are now losing with the demise of news on paper, but over time, the collection of new experiments that do work might give us the reporting we need…

Today, the Project for Excellence in Journalism releases the latest of its exhaustive annual analyses of the State of the News Media. Rick Edmonds, co-author of the study’s newspaper chapter, notes in the Biz Blog that PEJ “is cautious on prescriptives.”

But PEJ highlights several ideas it believes hold more promise than, for example, micropayments or nonprofit ownership:

  • A cable model that includes payment to content providers attached to monthly fees collected by Internet Service Providers
  • Online retail malls enabling local search networks
  • Subscription-based niche products for professional audiences

Among the most notable of PEJ’s more than 200,000 words:

Several new revenue streams most likely are needed. The closest thing to a consensus right now is that no one source is a likely magic bullet…

Reinvention does not usually come from managers prudently charting course. It tends to come from risk takers trying the unreasonable, seeing what others cannot, imagining what is not there and creating it…

Neither report suggests experimentation without purpose. Both make a persuasive case that the future of news will be served — not threatened — by the kind of risk-taking we have barely enough time to try.

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