20 March 2009


Dead dead trees

It's been all over the web this week, but Clay Shirky's article on the death of newspapers is still a worthwhile read:

When reality is labeled unthinkable, it creates a kind of sickness in an industry. Leadership becomes faith-based, while employees who have the temerity to suggest that what seems to be happening is in fact happening are [...] ignored en masse.

It makes increasingly less sense even to talk about a publishing industry, because the core problem publishing solves—the incredible difficulty, complexity, and expense of making something available to the public—has stopped being a problem.

That is what real revolutions are like. The old stuff gets broken faster than the new stuff is put in its place. [...] When someone demands to know how we are going to replace newspapers, they [...] are demanding to be lied to.

The expense of printing created an environment where Wal-Mart [through its advertising dollars] was willing to subsidize [a newspaper's] Baghdad bureau. [But] they’d never really signed up to fund the Baghdad bureau anyway.

So who covers all that news if some significant fraction of the currently employed newspaper people lose their jobs? I don’t know. Nobody knows. We’re collectively living through 1500 [when the printing press was introduced], when it’s easier to see what’s broken than what will replace it.

When I was in university, I helped found a couple of student newspapers, and I imagined myself working for a big newspaper one day. I never did, though I did get jobs at a couple of magazines over the years. If I were graduating today, a couple of decades later, I'd still want to write, but I don't think I'd have those ambitions anymore.

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