Fascinating To See How Journalists React To Clay Shirky's Thoughts On Journalism

from the microcosm dept

There's still a ton of buzz going on around Clay Shirky's wonderful discussion on business models and changing markets that we discussed earlier in the week. If you haven't read Shirky's post yet, do yourself a favor and read it. It applies to so many industries beyond just journalism. Unfortunately, as we saw in our own comments here, there are still some folks who are having difficulty understanding the key points to Shirky's argument: that business models evolve, but during the upheaval, it's rarely clear how that evolution will shake out.

A few people have sent in journalist Tom Watson's response to Shirky, and it's somewhat surprising. It's as if we read two different things -- even though the links are to the same Shirky writeup. I read Shirky's analysis as a huge burst of optimism. It's a "hey, things are crazy now, but check out what's coming next." Watson read it as an obituary for journalism, apparently assuming that Shirky's tone was to say that journalism is over. He reads Shirky's explanation of why bad newspaper business models failed (they all tried to recreate the old inefficient market) to mean that nothing will succeed. It's as if he skipped over most of Shirky's analysis.

Then, there's venerable TV newsman Charlie Gibson, who apparently was asked about Shirky's analysis (without it being clear if he'd read it) and responded that Shirky is "full of crap." He then proceeded to go back and try to re-inflate every discarded and failed idea in newspaper business models, falsely claiming the Seattle Post-Intelligencer is "gone" (it lives on online) and blaming "young people" for reading the news for free online as well as Google for bringing about the downfall of newspapers.

When asked what to do, he fell back on the idea of charging for news -- but never answered any of the important questions such a plan needs to address. Instead, he just seemed to think that the only way to pay for news is if the consumers each pay for it.

Remember, this is Charlie Gibson. The anchor of ABC World News Tonight. On ABC. Which is free. To consumers. It's supported by advertising. But, according to Charlie Gibson... that's impossible. I guess it's his viewers' fault for watching him for free or something... You want to know why people are turning to alternative sources? Perhaps it's because they're smart enough to realize that when Charlie Gibson -- whose face and voice beams into millions of peoples' homes for free every night -- says that people who get their news for free are destroying an industry, perhaps there are better sources from which to get their news.

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  • identicon
    David, 20 Mar 2009 @ 4:08pm

    Journalism's obituary

    The death of journalism is more related to "get it first" trumping "get it right". If the reporter doesn't get it right then the process rapidly because trust dies.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Matt T., 20 Mar 2009 @ 4:17pm

    Why, Chuck?

    That's strike one for calling an analyst "full of crap", and strike two for blaming the death of newspaper on young people. You better watch it, Charlie, you're on thin ice.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    bowerbird, 20 Mar 2009 @ 5:19pm

    charlie, charlie, charlie, didn't think that one through, did you?


    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Paul, 20 Mar 2009 @ 6:54pm

    Tired of the strawman

    I am really tired of the falsehood that only newspapers can "cover" local issues such as city council or school board meetings. Do they mean to suggest that these meetings are run by robots or aliens? With twitter, typead, facebook - anybody can report on happenings. I'd prefer to divine the truth from the blogs of two interested school board members and one concerned parent than some bored junior reporter.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), 20 Mar 2009 @ 7:55pm

    Missing the point

    Newspapers aren't dying because of the internet (although, that would be the inevitable outcome.)

    Newspapers are dying because the leveraged buy-outs to take them over are proving unsustainable.

    You'd think a bunch of 'journalists' could figure that out.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Grae, 20 Mar 2009 @ 8:19pm

    Honestly not that surprised, he's a news anchor. His job is to read a teleprompter to a camera. Which can be translated to "good (enough) looking and speech giving skills".

    He honestly needs to just STFU, as he has no clue what he's talking about.

    This is probably paranoid talk, but I wouldn't be shocked if Gibson had some kind of personal tie to the newspaper industry (friends or ownership somehow) and that's the extent of his "expertise" on this.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Doug Robinson, 21 Mar 2009 @ 4:32am

    The Point

    I think the point is actually being demonstrated in the comments. As of this post, there are 6 comments. With 6 different takes on the article. IMHO ChurchHatesTucker is the only one I should have read since CHT actually had an analysis of something other than ranting on Gibson.

    That is the community reporting that Paul above advocates. Citizen journalists posting on disparate sites that the public then needs to winnow through to find one persons view of an event. Honestly, that would make me loose interest in local events very quickly.

    Like it or not, the Newspaper I grew up with is not quite dead, but definitely dying. What it will meta morph into, time will tell, but an industry that is dedicated to gathering the facts and unbiasedly reporting them to the public should not die.

    I get most of my news from online. From the quick morning scan at the computer, the the follow up reads on my mobile device. I listen to internet radio, and watch TV on-line. This is my world. Why would my news not come the same way?

    Newspapers were here before radio and TV. Neither of those media killed the newspaper, despite them being as ubiquitous as the internet is now. Perhaps it would take all three to topple the newsprint giant. The fact remains,
    Newspapers must change to survive.

    The Corporate leaders of the Newspaper Industry are tied to the past. They grew their businesses by doing things according to the world as they saw it. Well, that world is changing. It is evolving, and stretching and getting faster. Adapt or die is the motto of the new millennium. Same as it always has been.

    The newspaper is dead! Long live the News!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Paul, 21 Mar 2009 @ 5:06am

    So Doug, do you suggest we're better off with a single journalist's point of view, instead of multiple points of view from people attending events and participating? That sounds awfully elitist.

    As an example, I'd rather read a dozen reviews of a restaurant from real people than what some so-called critic has to say.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Gene Cavanaugh, 21 Mar 2009 @ 12:12pm

    Charlie Gibson

    You are a wonderful journalist, and a gift to mankind, but you do tend to "peg" on extremes.
    Moderation! Charlie Gibson is wrong, and needs to try to learn why he is wrong, but one error does not an ex-anchor make! His news reporting is still valuable!
    It is like saying that one of the best Presidents we have ever had, Bill Clinton, should be impeached because the GOP was envious (though they said it was because of an intern; or some other silly thing).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Helpful Hints, 21 Mar 2009 @ 1:51pm

      Re: Charlie Gibson


      have a look at search returns for "pegging".

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 21 Mar 2009 @ 9:46pm

      Re: Charlie Gibson

      Make His news reporting valuable? Good gawd. Anyone can read English from printed pages given to an Anchor. I did when I was 10. (My dad was a news Producer & Anchor at CBC.)

      Doesn't putting Charlie in front of a camera mean ABC doesn't have ANYONE with a higher IQ, like a kid who knows a LITTLE more about the world around him; certainly what's paid for and how in YOUR OWN INDUSTRY? (And if Charlie's paid more than 50 cents abv min wage he's overpaid.)

      Shame shame ABC; and shame on Charlie. I understand that nobody gets a job anymore w/o a degree from somewhere. So what on earth do our schools of higher learning teach these days? Ejaculating a bunch of Charlies out of every class just for their attendance (or is it for their money)?

      But really now, what can ppl learn from their university professors? Rarely more than what the prof knows! That's the same graduates who bankrupt our economies (for bonuses), build structures that come tumbling down, elecators that don't work reliably, phone systems that don't work [properly], computer software that's mostly deficient for its intended purposes, govt regulators who can't regulate (properly), cops and judges who abuse their power and discretion, et cetera, etc., etc...

      Is it any wonder the Chinese already own most of the USA? And who here knows what countries own the other parts? Americans don't own anything worth mentioning, ALL having misused and abused their credit...

      If American politicians let this trend continue much longer there won't be any more USA, no more US flag (except perhaps as one of the circus state or province (that used to be the USA once) of a more strategic power). There won't be any more freedoms of anything, as already the Declaration of Independence is nothing more than a museum artifact; Independence Day just a symbolic annual event that's tolerated by our owners 'cause it wastes more of our time and resources, whereby they advance against us faster and further.

      Of course they will let this trend continue, 'cause it's not an issue on their current agendas. And when it becomes one suddenly, it'll be too much too late, just like the sudden financial crisis nobody was prepared for because they weren't paying attention and ignoring all the signals.

      Keep it up guys, let more schools dump more Charlies into our pathetic work force. It's what Bush was planning for when he secretly printed and minted the Amero (I think that's what it's called), to replace our current dollars and pesos. Who's going to profit then (collapse of the dollar)? It sure won't be any of the dollar holders?


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    • identicon
      Phillip, 24 Mar 2009 @ 1:23pm

      Re: Charlie Gibson

      I wouldn't call:

      "one of the best Presidents we have ever had, Bill Clinton"

      a moderate statement.

      I'd like to see anyone defend Clinton getting put in the same category as Lincoln.

      Heed your own advice :)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    greg, 23 Mar 2009 @ 10:25am

    I think there's a key bit of optimism hidden in that great article. It's this: we don't really need newspapers, but we need journalism -- or at least the social value that journalism provides.

    Unfortunately, today journalism is a wagon hitched to the cliff-diving business of printing and newspapers -- not entirely unlike the business of recorded music and the pressing/distribution of CDs. Because they're entangled, both have been going under.

    And while newspapers and these old media constructs went under, for years they have been eroding the very values of journalism with them: reporters couldn't check facts, they were encouraged to rip and read press releases, etc. It's not the Internet that's killing journalism -- newspapers and radio and TV have been slowly killing off journalism for years. Journalism has been sick for years, but largely because its host has been dying a slow death.

    What needs to surface is the values of journalism in a new construct. Journalism thus will probably (ultimately) survive, in a different form, while newspapers will not.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Tom W., 29 Mar 2009 @ 9:22am

    I'm somewhat surprised too, Mike

    It seems like we did indeed read two different articles, I agree. Not sure how you read what you read frankly. I'm very surprised.

    You seemed to focus on some unclear, fuzzy, futuristic business models that may or may not appear down the road to continue professional journalism.

    That buries the lead of Shirky's piece - it's as if you 'skipped over it,' as a matter of fact. Shirky offers a clear-eyed, unapologetic requiem for professionalism journalism - which is a real loss on the social commons - and argues forcefully that we don't know what (if anything) will replace it.

    I guess the margins are interesting, especially to those of us who left newspapers to work online, but the central nut of Shirky's essay remains.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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