Thursday, December 11, 2008

Newspaper Bail-out

cshirky's post about the decline of the newspaper industry, and of the information industry in general, highlights a concern I've had for a while now. It's not just the dead tree technology that's becoming increasingly devalued. It's the content itself. Look at what's happened in the music industry, and what's now happening in Hollywood. It's a slow, lingering death, but the abundance of acceptable quality on-line journalism, music, video, etc. is surely fatal to the traditional creators of this entertainment.

At one time, we thought there might be a two-track system, allowing users to get sponsored content for free, or pay extra for ad-free content. But even that appears to be eroding, because advertising is an invisible cost to the viewer ... you don't know you're paying with your eyes and ears. And advertising, in the form of product placements, is getting more invisible and more difficult to separate from the entertainment/information part of the content.

Of course, the big shift in this is the disappearance of editing, or at least of reliable editing. Newspaper editors take much of the responsibility for the space, priority, and treatment of news stories, just as years ago, publishers determined what books would reach the shelves. The decline of these gatekeeping functions may sound like a rallying cry for non-mainstream artists, creators, etc., but may also turn the information world into an unstructured, formless blob of competing criers, clamoring for attention.

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