Clay Shirky responds

Just wanted to turn your attention to Clay Shirky’s response to my post from the comments, which I’ve quoted in its entirely below.

“That’s a big part of my anger: people act as though the web is just going to jump up and provide this quality reporting. Not going to happen.”

This is exactly right, which is why I’m curious about being called out so directly earlier in your response. My essay wasn’t just written for newspaper people, its written for internet people as well. I’m as tired as you of hearing the happy talk around instant replacements for what will be lost, and I used the print revolution to point out that during real media revolutions, old things break faster than new things get fixed.

Since we agree, and since I specifically refused to propose that the Web will instantly replace quality reporting on paper, I don’t actually think your anger is around this point (at least not as directed at me.)

Instead, it seems as if you want me to somehow rail against the Gods that this fate has befallen these noble men and women etc etc. But here’s the thing: I’ve been writing quite matter-of-factly about the inevitable destruction of the classified market by the internet since the mid-1990s, so if I don’t seem sufficiently riled up, its because I think the change is not merely fundamental, its absolutely unsurprising. It would be like shaking my fist at the sun for setting to have been anything other than analytic about this change, even a dozen years ago, much less now.

That’s probably the same attitude that infuriates you, but if you believed what I believe, you wouldn’t be jumping up and down either. The newspapers were an interesting historical accident, now ending. Spending a lot of energy lamenting that fact risks using up the very energy we’re going to need to put into a whole lot of new experiments, simply we don’t have any idea what good new models for journalism are, and we won’t know for a decade or so which of those experiments will be of any use at all. Between nostalgia and innovation, I think innovation is the bigger imperative right now.

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One thought on “Clay Shirky responds

  1. On the subject of innovation, Steven Johnson has a good post up about potential experiments in local news gathering. And I’m at least somewhat inclined to agree with his more optimistic take. I can’t comment nationally, but I follow local news in Washington DC pretty closely, and between DCist, Prince of Petworth, a bunch of transit blogs like Greater Greater Washington, and so on, most of the functionality of the WaPo’s metro section can be duplicated.

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