April 29, 2008
Wither the News? (Plus a Bonus Book Short)
It’s unusual that I blog about a book before I’ve actually finished it, but this one is too timely to pass up given today’s news about newspapers. The Cult of the Amateur: How Today’s Internet is Killing Our Culture, by Andrew Keen, at least the first 1/2 of it, is a pretty intense rant about how the Internet’s trend towards democratizing media and content production has a double dirty underbelly:
poor quality — “an endless digital forest of mediocrity,”
no checks and balances — “mainstream journalists and newspapers have the organization, financial muscle, and and credibility to gain access to sources and report the truth…professional journalists can go to jail for telling the truth” (or, I’d add, for libel)
So what’s today’s news about newspapers? Another massive circulation drop — 3.6% in the last six months. Newspaper readership across the country is at its lowest level since 1946, when the population was only 141 million, or less than half what it is today. The digital revolution is well underway. Print newspapers are declining asymptotically to zero.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m an Internet guy, and I love the democratization of media for many reasons. I also think it will ultimately force old media companies to be more efficient as individual institutions and as an industry in order to survive (not to mention more environmentally friendly). But Keen has good thoughts about quality and quantity that are interesting counterpoints to the revolution. I hope at least some newspapers survive, change their models and their cost structures, and start competing on content quality. The thought that everyone in the world will get their news ONLY from citizen journalists is scary.
I’m curious to see how the rest of the book turns out. I’ll reblog if it’s radically different from the themes expressed here.
Update (having finished the book now): Keen puts the mud in curmudgeon. He doesn’t appear to have a good word to say about the Internet, and he allows his very good points about journalistic integrity and content quality and our ability to discern the truth to get washed up in a rant against online gambling, porn, and piracy. Even some of his rant points are valid, but saying, for example, that Craigslist is problematic to society because it only employs 22 people and is hugely profitable while destroying jobs and revenue at newspapers just comes across as missing some critical thinking and basically just pissing in the wind. His final section on Solutions is less blustry and has a couple good examples and points to offer, but it’s a case of too little, too late for my liking.