When it comes to saying things in a deep and meaningful way about the impact of technology and the Internet on society, there are few better than Clay Shirky.
Two weeks ago, Shirky (the author of the best-selling business book, Here Comes Everybody) gave a fascinating and fresh speech on the future of accountability journalism in a world of declining newspapers at the Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy. The Nieman Journalism Lab Blog had this post: Clay Shirky: Let a thousand flowers bloom to replace newspapers; don’t build a paywall around a public good, which features a full text transcription of Shirky’s speech along with the MP3 audio of the presentation. I printed up the speech and spent well over an hour reading, contemplating, smiling, being frustrated with the honesty and marvelling at the raw simplicity. This is what Shirky does best: he’s able to take us all outside of the current moment, show it to us and point us in a direction that seems to make the most sense – even if it is painful to hear.
Here are two gems:
On the current realities of the newspaper industry:
"I think a bad thing is going to happen, right? And it’s amazing to me how much, in a conversation conducted by adults, the possibility that maybe things are just going to get a lot worse for a while does not seem to be something people are taking seriously. But I think this falling into relative corruption of moderate-sized cities and towns — I think that’s baked into the current environment. I don’t think there’s any way we can get out of that kind of thing. So I think we are headed into a long trough of decline in accountability journalism, because the old models are breaking faster than the new models can be put into place."
On advertising and that whole "revenue model" thing:
"Some time between the rise of the penny press and the end of the Second World War, we had a very unusual circumstance — and I think especially in the United States — where we had commercial entities producing critical public goods. We had ad-supported newspapers producing accountability journalism. Now, it’s unusual to have that degree of focus on essentially both missions — both making a profit and producing this kind of public value. But that was the historic circumstance, and it lasted for decades. But it was an accident. There was a set of forces that made that possible. And they weren’t deep truths — the commercial success of newspapers and their linking of that to accountability journalism wasn’t a deep truth about reality. Best Buy was not willing to support the Baghdad bureau because Best Buy cared about news from Baghdad. They just didn’t have any other good choices."
You can read the full speech (or listen to the audio version of it) here: Clay Shirky: Let a thousand flowers bloom to replace newspapers; don’t build a paywall around a public good.