Journalism is in trouble because journals are going away. So are broadcasters that do journalism rather than opinionism.*
Basically, they are either drowning in digital muck or adapting to it—and many have. Also in that muck are a zillion new journalists, born native to digital life. Those zillions include everybody with something to say, for example with blogs or podcasts. As Clay Shirky put it in the title of a very relevant book about our topic, Here Comes Everybody.
An odd fact about digital life is that its world is the Internet, which works by eliminating the functional distance between everybody and everything. Think of this habitat as a giant three-dimensional zero: a hollow sphere with an interior that is as close to zero as possible in both distance and cost for everything on it. This is a very weird space that isn’t one, even though we call it one because space works as a metaphor.
Still, we are all embodied creatures operating in a natural world with plenty of distance and lots of costs. This is why we form communities, towns, cities, organizations, institutions, and social networks of people who see and talk to each other in the flesh.
For more than a century, the information center that held a town or a city together was its newspaper. This is no longer the case. The Monroe Country History Center and the Herald-Times (our local paper) explain the situation in an outstanding exhibit at the Center’s museum called Breaking the News:
But hey! There are still plenty of journals, journalists, and news sources here in town, including the Herald-Times. That’s some of their logos, gathered at the top of this page. I also listed them in my last post, calling them all, together, wide news. If their work is well-archived we’ll also have what I call deep news in the prior post.
I suggest that the answer to the question asked by that exhibit—where will it go now?— is whole news. That’s what you get when all these media cohere into both a commons and a market.
And, as it happens, we have some resources for creating both.
One is the Ostrom Workshop at Indiana University, where my wife Joyce and I are both visiting scholars. The workshop carries forward the pioneering work of Elinor Ostrom, who won a Nobel Prize in economics for her work on commons of many kinds. If we’re going to make a whole news commons, the Workshop can be hugely helpful. (So can other folks we know, such as Clay Shirky. Note that the subtitle of Here Comes Everybody is The Power of Organizing Without Organizations. Clay will be here to speak in our salon series at IU in December.)
Another is Customer Commons, a nonprofit that Joyce and I started as part of ProjectVRM, which we launched when I started a fellowship at Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center in 2006. Customer Commons (says here) is “a public-facing organization focused on emerging issues at the intersection of empowered individuals and the public good,” while ProjectVRM is a community with hundreds of developers and others working on new business models that start with self-empowered customers. Within both are business model ideas for journalism that have been waiting for the right time and place to try out. (Examples are intentcasting listenlog and emancipay.)
But the first step for us is getting to know the people and organizations on the supply side of news here in Bloomington, where Joyce and have now lived for two years. We know some local journalists already, and would love to know the rest. If I don’t reach you first, email me at doc at searls dot com.
And, as always, everything I’ve written above is subject to corrections and improvements, so I invite those too.
*Put simply, journalism’s mission is to get stories right, while opinionism’s mission is to get and keep an audience. But it’s sometimes hard to tell the difference, because the same labels can apply to both, and even the best journalism rests to some degree on opinions—of experts and eyewitnesses, for example.
You can see how blurry this can get by looking at Nielsen’s ratings for radio stations. Here is a table of Nielsen’s top twenty-five markets, with links to each station with a measurable audience, and labels for each station’s format. As you look at each market, click on the station link to see what’s behind its “News/Talk,” “News,” or “All News” label:
|1||New York NY||10-03-23||PPM||16,110,500|
|2||Los Angeles CA||10-03-23||PPM||11,469,700|
|4||San Francisco CA||10-03-23||PPM||6,764,400|
|5||Dallas-Ft. Worth TX||10-03-23||PPM||6,339,800|
|11||Miami-Fort Lauderdale FL||09-06-23||PPM||4,159,800|
|15||Minneapolis-St. Paul MN||09-06-23||PPM||3,032,400|
|16||San Diego CA||09-06-23||PPM||2,873,100|
|17||Tampa-St. Petersburg FL||09-06-23||PPM||2,797,700|
|24||St. Louis MO||09-06-23||PPM||2,342,200|
|25||San Antonio TX||09-07-23||PPM||2,151,300|
For example, in Dallas-Fort Worth, KERA and WBAP are both “News/Talk.” But KERA’s schedule is built around NPR programs while WBAP’s schedule is built around conservative talkers. Listen to both to draw or re-draw your own conclusions.
News/Talk, however, is at most a very small part of whole news, which is about how no one source of good information owns the whole space, as newspapers used to do. We haven’t yet defined this space, which is why we need to talk about it.