Institutions, Confidence, and the News Crisis

Dean Starkman has written a lengthy piece in the Columbia Journalism Review, assessing the writings of a group of us he calls the “Future of News” movement. That essay, Confidence Game, focusses principally on Jay Rosen and me, both of NYU’s Carter Institute, and Jeff Jarvis of CUNY, though noting some similarity of vision with Emily Bell of Columbia, Dan Gillmor of Arizona, and John Paton, publisher of the Journal-Register Company. (Unmentioned fellow travelers include, mutatis mutandis, Steve Yelvington, Chris Anderson, Amanda Michel, Steve Buttry, Jonathan Stray, and Alan Mutter.)

Starkman doesn’t just criticize us (though he does that, at length.) He also puts forward a Burkean defense of institutional tradition as a store of embedded wisdom, arguing for the continued relevance of existing news organizations, especially newspapers, in something very close to their current form.

He jokingly calls his vision the “Neo-Institutional Hub-and-Spoke Model.” His description of what’s needed, though — “rebuilding or shoring up institutions” — makes it clear he doesn’t need the “Neo-” bit. He is talking about somehow saving the familiar institutions, not inventing new ones, a strategy that has long passed for Plan A in the conversation about what the internet changes about the news business.

He’s not even wild about the familiar institutions altering themselves too radically to accomodate those changes. Paton, who is trying to save local news reporting, is derided for being a “FON practitioner” (shades of the 5th column), and The Guardian, a storied paper since back in the day, gets ten with the cane for going ‘digital first‘. When echt newspaper guys like Paton of the Journal-Register and Alan Rusbridger of The Guardian are seen as heretics, you know we’re talking about that old-time religion.

Rosen and Jarvis and Bell and I disagree plenty, but one belief we have in common is that the way newspapers used to be organized and funded is a bad fit for the current environment, and getting worse. More than any individual sentiment we may have expressed, our public loss of faith in the institutional logic of Plan A seems to be what has most aroused Starkman’s ire.

* * *

Institutions reduce the choices available to their members. (This is Ronald Coase’s famous argument about transaction costs.) This reduction allows better focus on the remaining choices they face.

The editors meet every afternoon to discuss the front page. They have to decide whether to put the Mayor’s gaffe there or in Metro, whether to run the picture of the accused murderer or the kids running in the fountain, whether to put the Biker Grandma story above or below the fold. Here are some choices they don’t have to make at that meeting: Whether to have headlines. Whether to be a tabloid or a broadsheet. Whether to replace the entire front page with a single ad. Whether to drop the whole news-coverage thing and start selling ice cream.

Every such meeting, in other words, involves a thousand choices, but not a billion, because most of the big choices have already been made. These frozen choices are what gives institutions their vitality — they are in fact what make them institutions. Freed of the twin dangers of navel-gazing and random walks, an institution can concentrate its efforts on some persistent, medium-sized, and tractable problem, working at a scale and longevity unavailable to its individual participants.

Institutions also reduce the choices a society has to make. In the second half of the 20th century, “the news” was whatever was in the newspaper on the morning, or network TV at night. Advertisers knew where to reach shoppers. Politicians knew who to they had to talk to to get their message out (sometimes voluntarily, sometimes not.) Readers understood an Letters page as the obvious way of getting wider circulation for their views.

That dual reduction of choices masks an essential asymmetry, though. Institutions are designed to reduce they choices for their members, but they only happen to reduce the choices in society. A publisher may want reporters at their desks at 10 am, and to be the main source of breaking news for the paper’s readers. The former desire is under the publisher’s control; the latter not.

Now this seems easy enough to describe, but people inside institutions tend to confuse the two, to believe their institution is in control of both their daily routine and their destiny. And of course, the longer any given institution maintains a stable role, the less that role seems like an accident and the more it seems like a robust feature of reality.

* * *

Starkman and I could, I think, agree on this story so far, and indeed, most of the time institutional vitality is a safe bet. The ability of institutions to adapt slowly while preserving continuity of mission and process is exactly what lets them last longer than a single leader or lifespan. When change in the outside world outstrips an institution’s adaptive capabilities, though, the ability to defend the internal organization from outside pressures can become a liability. Stability can tun into rigidity and even institutional blindness.

Newspapers were stable for a really long time. The 1830s saw the rise of the penny press, when advertisers generated enough subsidy for the cover price to be reduced from six cents to one, with an attendant explosion in readership. Improbably enough, that model survived for most of two centuries with little more than tweaks and updates, right up to the sudden increase in freedoms occasioned by the internet, freedoms enjoyed by both advertisers and readers. The erosion of geographic sinecure made every story available everywhere. Casual aggregation from multiple sources delighted readers but eroded loyalty. Competition turned paywalls into cul-de-sacs instead of toll roads. Upstart web services (Yahoo and iVillage, Slate and Salon) first set then compressed a market price for ads that the newspapers never had a chance to alter. Users forwarding stories to one another increased audience size, but destroyed scarcity.

Despite these challenges to newspapers, Starkman believes that we can and must “…find ways to preserve and transfer their most important attributes to a digital era, even as we push them to adapt to new financial, technological, and cultural realities.” I don’t believe we must do this, because I don’t believe we can do this. That, I think, is the core diference between our views.

There are thousands of papers in the US, all facing simultaneous pressures on their revenues, their organizational form, the loyalty of their readership, the ferocity of the competition, and even their sense of self. If, seeing those challenges, we FONeros still thought it was possible to preserve most papers in something like their current form, we’d adopt Plan A too. You’d only pursue something like Plan B if you’d given up on broad institutional preservation in the first place.

* * *

To my eye, Starkman stacks the deck when comparing Plans A and B. He lists only three examples of successful “FON” journalism (US Attorney firings, “macacca,” and “bittergate“), but his recounting of the glories of print go back to Ida Tarbell. Tarbell was indeed a terrific reporter, but her byline has been somewhat scarce of late, given she’s been dead 70 years. Comparing a 5 year stretch of recent experiments with the greatest hits of newspapering since the McKinley administration may rally the home team, but it doesn’t make for a particularly informative comparison.

Like a Yeats of the newspaper world, Starkman yearns for the restoration of a culture considerably purer than the actual newspaper business has ever been. Reading Confidence Game, you’d never know that most papers are not like the NY Times, that most of what appears in their pages is syndicated, that sports is often better represented on the masthead than hard news. You’d never know that more American papers printed today will include a horoscope than international news. You’d never know that newspapers are institutions where grown men and women are assigned to write stories about dogs catching frisbees.

Saying newspapers will provide a stable home for reporters, just as soon as we figure out how to make newspapers stable, is like saying that if we had some ham, we could have a ham sandwich, if we had some bread. We need to support the people who cover hard news, but when you see a metro daily for a town of 100,000 that employs only six such reporters (just 10% of the masthead, much less total staff), saving the entire edifice just to support that handful looks a lot harder than just finding new ways to support them directly.

This view is, as Starkman says, anti-institutional, starting as it does from the premise that the outside world is changing faster than most newspapers’ adaptive capabilities. They have responded to 20 consecutive quarters ad revenue decline with the evisceration of international desks and newsroom staff. More is on the way. No medium has ever survived the indifference of 25 year olds.

* * *

We have long since entered a period of hybridization — William Bastone quitting The Village Voice to found Smoking Gun and Nate Silver selling to the NY Times, Andy Carvin and Anjali Mullany pioneering new forms of live coverage from inside traditional organizations, Amanda Michel’s career implementing citizen journalism at Huffington Post, then at ProPublica, then at The Guardian, these are concrete demonstrations that the old dichotomies of traditional vs. new media, professionals vs. amateurs, incumbents vs. insurgents, have long since stopped being real, hard choices, and have instead become points on an increasingly traversable spectrum.

All of this seems to offer the grandmotherly option between Starkman and the FON crew — “You’re both right, dear. We need institutions and we need experiments.” Even given this hybridization, though, our views diverge: Plan A assumes that experiments should be spokes to the newspapers’ hub, their continued role as the clear center of public interest journalism assured, and on the terms previously negotiated.

Plan B follows Jonathan Stray’s observations about the digital public sphere: in a world where Wikipedia is a more popular source of information than any newspaper, maybe we won’t have a clear center anymore. Maybe we’ll just have lots of overlapping, partial, competitive, cooperative attempts to arm the public to deal with the world we live in.

Some of the experiments going on today, small and tentative as they are, will eventually harden into institutional form, and that development will be as surprising as the penny press subsidizing journalism for seven generations. The old landscape had institutions and so will the new one, but this doesn’t imply continuity. We still have companies called Western Union and ATT, but as the communications landscape changed, they have become almost unrecognizably different from their former selves. Likewise, as the presses fall silent over the next ten years, even papers that survive will see their internal organization and their place in the ecosystem altered beyond our ability to predict.

If you believed, as Starkman clearly does, that this view is not just incorrect but odious, that the current form of the newspaper remains a good general fit for public interest journalism, merely going through a rough patch, then you’d be eager to dial down the ‘try anything’ ethic in favor of the hard, grinding work of rebuilding and shoring up the institutions that have served us so well these last several decades.

But if you believe, as I do, that many of those institutions are so mismatched to the task at hand that most of them face a choice, at best, between radical restructure and outright collapse, well, in that case, you’d probably find the smartest 25 year olds you know, and try to convince them that now would be a pretty good time to start working on Plan B.

40 Responses to “Institutions, Confidence, and the News Crisis”

  1. Dan Kennedy: 2012 will bring “the great retrenchment” among newspaper publishers – Paywalls may become more popular in 2012; that doesn’t mean they’ll be enough to save a flailing industry. « World Media Trend Says:

    […] Starkman calls for the preservation of traditional journalistic institutions, which brought a memorable retort from Shirky: Saying newspapers will provide a stable home for reporters, just as soon as we figure […]

  2. Schools and Change – Do We Adapt or Do We React? | Edunautics Says:

    […] recent post by Clay Shirky – Institutions, Confidence, and the News Crisis – got me thinking about schools as institutions, and how they handle change. Here’s a […]

  3. Jeremie Averous Says:

    Clay, you can’t be more right in your analysis. Institutions will have to change dramatically.
    I like to look at what happened during the previous Revolution, with the start of the Industrial Age. The best example I found is slavery: a perfectly normal institution in the Agricultural Age, it became suddenly not useful, and soon downright immoral.
    I believe what is happening right now is another of these fundamental revolutions created by a step change in our communication capabilities. I call it the Fourth Revolution, because it is the fourth time in our entire history of Humankind that such a dramatic change is happening. Like most institutions of the Agricultural Age collapsed and were replaced by new forms (e.g. royalty, slavery, professions, worker and unions, intellectual property, financing system, etc, etc), so will the same happen in the next few years with the institutions from the Industrial Age were are so used to. I hope that it will happen without too much suffering – we all need to look forward and invent the new world, proactively.

  4. Christopher Krug Says:

    Journalism > Journalism Institutions

  5. This Week in Review: Institutions and news innovation, and papers’ paywall experiments roll on « World Media Trend Says:

    […] one of the primary targets of the piece — delivered a response late last week in the form of a thoughtful essay on the nature of institutions and the news industry. Shirky explained the process by which […]

  6. Jeff Stanger Says:

    Great rebuttal. It looks like the “indifference of 25 year olds” comment created a few waves. Your post made we consider the assumption: are your figurative 25 year olds actually indifferent to newspapers. I get into that here: I’m interested in your input on the post.

  7. George Sylvie Says:

    Isomorphism makes institutions what they are, regardless of what Starkman or you say. They are not going to be the change agents. That job will fall to editors, if they’re bold enough to take it. Innovative news content no doubt will be the lynchpin that either halts the slide of newspapers or heralds their demise. Editors must grasp that the latter won’t require much action while the former will require leadership – in new forms, new styles of managing, new ways of listening, new methods of choosing story subjects, new approaches to (and with) the audience, and the will to fight to control the new ecosystem.

  8. Seeing Schools in the News « It's About Learning Says:

    […] Recently, I tweeted a blog post by Seth Godin. In response, @occam98 connected me to a Clay Shirky piece, “Institutions, Confidence, and the News Crisis.” […]

  9. R. Pointer Says:

    Recent news of Lee Enterprises filing a pretty much predictable bankruptcy brought to my mind an interesting moment coming in the near future. Link from StL Post-D:

    What’s coming is a major American city without a daily newspaper. What it means will be interesting. If you look around the internet local landscape TV news channels have been pretty aggressive moving to compete, but their coverage lacks the depth often seen in paper. I don’t think those firms are well positioned to fill whatever void will be left. What will be available however is room for institution-building to take place. I postulate that the existence of a local newspaper actually keeps this from happening currently. Newspapers are a focal point that inhibits a new nexus from forming around a purely online firm.

    To put it differently, traditional newspapers still enjoy returns to scale on the production side that make it unbelievably expensive to compete on the same news. That is why it is possible for specialty blogs to garner a following but generalized local outfits to be limited (although I don’t know the numbers on readership for examples like, it has focused less on the day-to-day type news and more on long stories with less overall content).

    An apt metaphor might be a pond with a monster fish (local newspaper) and many smaller fish (blogs, TV & Radio websites, etc.) – the monster fish eats up a lot of the feed and the small fish have to specialize. Indeed no small fish is able to eat enough to displace the monster fish because it eats most of the feed. The day when the monster dies is the day one of those small fish can start feasting. The question is whether these small fish will be competitive enough to keep each other tiny, or one will be able to grow larger than others.

    FONeros do point out a hard fact that will shape the future. Part of the old nexus, Advertisers, can bypass the publisher process by building their own or using Google as an alternative platform.

    Whatever might happen, we will see.

  10. Nerding out with Page One | Edmonton Journal Says:

    […] of screen time. I strongly recommend three blog posts of his on the subject. His most recent — Institutions, Confidence, and the News Crisis — is a response to a widely read piece by Dean Starkman criticizing the “future of […]

  11. A defense of ‘the future of news’ « Newsroom With A View Says:

    […] 12/5/11 UPDATE: Clay Shirky himself has weighed in: […]

  12. BH in MA Says:

    I stopped reading the newspaper 10 years ago and I consider myself better informed now than ever before in my life partly BECAUSE I stopped getting the majority of my news from traditional sources. Also, these days I would be hard pressed to tell you exactly where I get my news. “From all over” seems to be the best answer. In the same day I might see an item on, read someone’s critique of the article, read a more thorough article on an alternate site and read an eyewitness account or see video from someone who was at the scene.

  13. Stephen Strauss Says:

    One reason the FON versus GODON (Good Old Days of Newspapers) debate is so passionate is that we are going through a technological switchover that doesn’t mimic what past, and seemingly similar technological eruptions have done. That is: Make everything in the future ineluctably better than everything in the past. Compare for example print newspapers versus internet news to the contests between horse drawn carriages and cars, typewriters and computers, printed maps and GPS’s. In the latter three examples it quickly became clear that what you were getting with technological change was not something a little better but something truly betterisimo.
    Therefore people not just embraced change; they scorned as luddites those who didn’t. It is not yet clear with the rise of internet news that readers are going to get an authenticated, intelligently revised, objectified (if not objective) view on the world, That is that they are going to continue to get what at least some of them value in today’s daily newspaper.
    Thus the paradox. The business model of old-style print newspapers seems broken, but that is not the same as saying that free internet news is intrinsically informationally better than what the old business model and old technologically produced.
    So what you (well I) regularly feel with the internet is that you get a less valuable product but since you get it for free, you are required to accept less. That’s not the transparent benefit of computers and typewriters and GPSs and printed maps. That’s more like those revolutions which continue to trouble us and continue to generate not just angst but – to continue the verbal mangling –angstissimo.
    Think: Locally grown organic versus foreign imported non-organic food; solar powered cars versus fossil-fuel powered cars; tests that catch some prostate cancers early but produce false positives with many more.
    Make everything better for everyone and the FON dispute is over. Make some things better and some things worse and the fights will not just continue, they will never end.

  14. on libraries and newspapers and life boats … « Big Building, Lots of Books Says:

    […] author of the books Here Comes Everybody and Cognitive Surplus, had a very interesting post on Institutions, Confidence, and the News Crisis. While his post deal specifically with the crisis being experienced by traditional news […]

  15. Paul Says:

    Nice one Clay. Great read. Here’s my two cents on the future…

    Before the newspaper (and the journalist), news was a peer-to-peer social activity, not a commodity or service. Following mass literacy, newspapers changed that by distributing news on sheets of paper – a one-to-many distribution model which still defines most media (including TV and radio.)

    Now the distribution model for information is changing – reverting to the ancient peer-to-peer social model. The newsroom will survive, but it cannot be defined any longer by the mode in which news is distributed, as that’s now outside their competence.

  16. Burun Estetiği Says:

    The cruel truth of the emerging networked news environment is that reporters are as disempowered as they have ever been, writing more often, under more pressure, with less autonomy, about more trivial things, than under the previous monopolistic regime. The suggestion that the Internet has “disempowered” journalists is just not true. In a global context it is willfully wrong. But even in the narrow context of journalism in the US, to say that individual journalists are disempowered by a medium that allows for so much more individual reporting and publishing freedom is baffling. If this case is made in the newsroom context of reporters having too much to do, then maybe this is an institutional fault in misunderstanding the requirements of producing effective digital journalism. Unlike the pages and pages of newsprint and rolling twenty-four-hour news, there is no white space, no dead airtime to fill on the Internet. It responds to 140 characters as well as to five thousand words.

  17. JJ Says:

    I’m a 26 year-old who graduated from one of the top journalism schools in the nation. When I was in undergrad, the things my professors were telling us about “the world of journalism” were so antiquated and irrelevant to the newsrooms we were interning in – or the news blogs we were starting – that they seemed like history classes.

    Honestly, all this pining about the loss of institutions… I say, death to the institutions! An institution is just the biggest guy in the room. And it’s usually a big, white guy. One perspective, claiming to represent all. How is that any better than having a bunch of little silos where people are talking to themselves? In the past, the loudest voice in the room was the only one allowed to talk. Now lots of people are allowed to talk – but they’re primarily just talking to a like-minded audience. The difference is that the more people who see “journalism” – IE observing the world and sharing what they’ve seen with others – as less of a trade and more as a way of life – well, that has to be a good thing. Participation has to be a good thing. I value participation over passive consumption, which is what the real difference between new and old appears to be, to me.

  18. Camille Reyes Says:

    I completely agree with your main point: Plan B or Bust. I do think some of your supports could be better chosen, however. For example, citing AT&T as an old media company that has changed with the times does not ring true. They have expanded their products and services, sure, but they remain business as usual in terms of the monopolistic practices of old. They are an example for the Plan A/Institutional might camp.

    Also, maybe it’s because I’m approaching forty and passionately studying this stuff in a doctoral program, but I am sadden by this pressure to ask 25-year-olds. Wisdom seems ageless to me. I’m going to go ask my granny for ideas now. Sincere thanks for your post, though. Always fun to think with you.

  19. Top Game Girls Says:

    I love this post (Institutions, Confidence, and the News Crisis ? Clay Shirky) so I posted it on my Facebook ,hope you don’t mind. Perhaps you could look into Share and Follow plugin to make it easier for your readers to spread it out. It’s only my opinion.

  20. SocraticGadfly Says:

    Frankly, I thought Starkman was spot on. Most “new media fluffers” start with the premise of quoting only one half of Stewart Brand’s favorite quote, that information wants to be free, while ignoring that Brand also said it wants to be expensive.

    Working at a place that thinks FB and Twitter will be salvation while it continues to take a pass on paywalling is …. disheartening, off-putting and more.

  21. Sherwin Arnott Says:

    Interesting! Seems to me that much of what passes as ‘descriptive analysis’ these days is public relations for the old model of newspapers.

    Starkman’s declaration that the old model needs to be conserved is part of the attempt to conserve it. Sometimes I worry that these conservative tactics might actually work to some degree. One unfortunate newspaper, here in Canada, is the National Post; they still haven’t developed the critical habit of linking to the various articles they make reference to even if the entire report is about that article. But their advertisers still pay for advertising, and it makes me wonder if the advertisers are actually paying for the social and political influence.

  22. John Myers Says:

    I think you’ve completely missed Starkman’s point — perhaps by mistake, perhaps because you don’t want to deal with it.

    (I admit I have no idea of the apparent disagreement between all of you, having just stumbled on to this via Poynter.)

    But Starkman’s point, to me (and I’m a broadcast journalist) isn’t saving newspapers… it’s saving professional journalism. And with that I couldn’t agree more.

    There’s way too much “citizen journalists can do this as well as professional journalists” blather in the world these days. Bloggers, activists, and tinkerers didn’t spend the last 18 years that I did honing a craft, or the last 10 that I did digging deep into a specific beat and everything that happened on it. Instead, they come in largely with a knowledge base created by ripping off the work of professional journos (usually print), whose news organizations give away the content for free online.

    I realize I sound bitter, but I have run in to far too many 21st century wanna-be’s who don’t know what they’re talking about. Meantime, the folks I respect and work with are getting laid off in droves. Let’s see what our friends in “citizen journalism” do when forced to burn some shoe leather and start doing some actual reporting. You’re not a journalist because you read the paper or get press releases. You go to primary sources, ask them questions, earn their trust, and write what you know. And that’s what I fear we’re on the verge of losing. (And we’ve already lost it in broadcasting.)

    Is the morning daily print newspaper a dinosaur? Yes. Do we need to figure out how to adapt to the online and social media-driven world in which we live? Yes. But is the answer a departure from serious, long form (and even daily/temporal), professional journalism? God, I hope not.

    And one more thing: we sing for our supper in front of uninterested 25-year olds at our own collective peril.

  23. Sunday Reading « zunguzungu Says:

    […] Institutions, Confidence, and the News Crisis […]

  24. Liz Says:

    I think you put it best in your book “Here Comes Everybody.” Some people are like that Abbott who championed scribes and then used the most effective medium to distribute his message of praise for the scribes–and it wasn’t the scribes.

  25. Gwyneth Gibby Says:

    Go Plan B, by all means. But I would grab the smartest people around, not just the 25-year-olds, to launch my experiment. It may turn out that those moribund institutions, i.e. newsrooms, have been harboring plenty of people with good ideas that have been squashed by the likes of Starkman for quite awhile.

  26. » Shirky on the nature of institutions Says:

    […] Institutions, Confidence, and the News Crisis […]

  27. paul Says:

    To refine Josh K’s point above, all those mobile apps we see now are just little browsers: instead of one browser and magic of style sheets or portable design, the product of countless hours of work and RFCs, we’re back to AOL’s model of a managed viewport.

    To the remark about the J-school grads, I don’t even know why we have 4 year programs to teach journalism. I don’t see, in the current journalism landscape, a lot of evidence that these programs are teaching curiosity, determination, and persistence. Better to have them learn history or literature and round out their degree with a course or or two in the AP style book and newspaper writing. I doubt many of the great names in journalism studied the field before entering it. I realize J/schools are a recent invention but I expect reading newspapers and having a healthy curiosity (or maybe an unhealthy one) about the issues of the day is all the education you really need.

    The transformation of universities into trade schools is another topic but turning journalism into a four year degree program coupled with the destructive MBA culture has done a lot of the damage under discussion here. Think about it: does studying journalism teach you to write about politics or current events? Does studying business teach you to run a *particular* business? You learn how businesses of the past were structured or how industries came and went, that you need to sell things for more than they cost to make: bully for you! How does this prepare you for the disruptive business landscape of the 21st century? What do B-schools teach about companies with billion dollar valuations but no revenue?

    At a certain level, yes, car makers and cereal manufacturers are the same: they take raw materials and make things to be sold. But what things? To whom are they intended? And how many of those buyers are there? And how do you find them? There’s a desire to boil things down to basic principles that can be learned and replicated, to refactor everything as a set of algorithms (Daniel Pink discusses this in Brave New Mind). But some things defy that.

    And a definition of FON on first reference would have been useful: I think I worked out that it means “Future of News” but in the old school journalism I practiced years ago, we had to spell out acronyms before using them.

  28. Flip Schultz Says:

    There’s an interesting similarity between this development and the rise of radio stations at the start of the 20th century, who – especially in Europe – were considered a threat to the established ‘news’ institutions of that time. Something that deserves more looking into.

  29. Carlos Leyva Says:

    It’s hard to believe that you still have to make this argument. Some folks are tied to the past because their world views are wrapped up in it. To let go is to be forced to change your worldview, a thing that most of us find “disruptive” to say the least. However the mantra “change or die” is all to real and so we get on with changing how we think about the world and its institutions.

    I write a lot about privacy and security in the healthcare space. There are LOTS of folks with their heads in the sand there as well. To be fair, the healthcare industry is undergoing SO MUCH change at the moment that privacy and security are not top of mind, but the cost of breach notification is starting to change all that, and the 25 year old nurses and future docs get it.

  30. BrianSJ Says:

    Right. That’s newspapers. Banks next please.

  31. Felix Pleșoianu Says:

    Somewhat off-topic: as I was reading the last two paragraphs, I was distracted by something on TV. Turns out, the Romanian channel Antena 3 considers YouTube cat videos newsworthy material as of late.

    More on topic, your warning that “even papers that survive will see their internal organization and their place in the ecosystem altered beyond our ability to predict” echoes my own claim that the Technological Singularity is already beginning, we just don’t realize it yet. Shameless plug:

  32. Glen Gatin Says:

    “if we had some ham, we could have a ham sandwich, if we had some bread.” Love it!

  33. Josh K Says:

    Even though the walled garden model for newspapers has failed, the primary use of the internet is moving away from the web (browsers) and will soon be dominated by mobile applications. These apps reduce the choice of the user as described in this article. This puts the institutions in an excellent position because they already have the content and the culture. Taking this into consideration, the free/premium model seems like a logical move for the major newspapers.

  34. Wayne Baisley Says:

    Dean Starkman – I have seen the future, and it doesn’t work!

  35. thinking by michaellautman - Pearltrees Says:

    […] in the newspaper on the morning, or network TV at night. Advertisers knew where to reach shoppers. Institutions, Confidence, and the News Crisis « Clay Shirky home • contact • blog • fb • twitter to experience pearltrees […]

  36. Michael Lautman Says:

    The future of news debate is a lot like the debate over the legalization of gay marriage or other “old vs. new” debates. There is often a very clear division of opinion by age, and although many of those being in the “old” category will side with the new, most will simply die off. As you pointed out about the indifference of 25 year olds, most young people are happily finding a mix of news sources that they find relevant and reliable. They don’t even think about it. They just live it. No amount of “in my day” ing will convince them to do otherwise.

  37. Institutions, Confidence, and the News Crisis « danielbachhuber Says:

    […] Institutions, Confidence, and the News Crisis. Good rebuttal by Clay Shirky to Dean Starkman’s piece. I’m in the Plan B camp. Like this:LikeBe the first to like this post. Published: December 2, 2011 Filed Under: asides Tags: Clay Shirky : future of news : journalism : rebuttals […]

  38. Bruce Drake Says:

    Putting aside any overall judgement between Starkman’s essay and those he has grouped under the FON label, I think this observation if yours is a cheap shot:

    “Tarbell was indeed a terrific reporter, but her byline has been somewhat scarce of late, given she’s been dead 70 years. Comparing a 5 year stretch of recent experiments with the greatest hits of newspapering since the McKinley administration may rally the home team, but it doesn’t make for a particularly informative comparison.”

    The glib observation that she’s been dead for 70 years obscures the point that it takes a journalistic decision by an organization with visibility to attack the subject, even though in our times, crowdsourcing could help if carefully used. I think you undermined your retort with a cheap crack

  39. Susan McLennan Says:

    If we could all just convince ourselves and each other to put our heads in the sand, there really wouldn’t be a problem. But you are absolutely right. No organization can withstand the indifference of 25 year olds, and why should they buy into an institution when they can and do have the world at their feet?

    I watch some of the young journalists churned out of J-schools today with a mixture of horror and amusement. They have been trained for a world that no longer exists and are not yet sure enough in themselves to have rejected it outright. So they turn themselves into these personas of yesteryear, with forced voices and plastered smiles who read tweets on air packaged between the scripted puns that someone wrote for them.

    We are now a society that embraces ideas. We care increasingly little for the behemoths and structures that used to make the proliferation of those ideas possible.

    Is it painful to dismantle the surities of the world as it was for the world as it is now? Of course it is. But pretending the world hasn’t changed, that we can will the next generation to not embrace the possibilities of this new world isn’t an option. The future is coming. The past is gone. And that will never change.

  40. DanS Says:

    CNN fires photographers:

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