Here comes… Clay Shirky. Clay Shirky’s talk at LSE last night presented something of a logistical reporting first for me – with traditional reporter’s notepad in one hand, mobile Twitter in the other and an Aussie-American sitting next to me who’d wandered in from a cancelled lecture asking who is this Clay Shirky guy and what is Twitter? (if I had a penny…).
Well, Clay Shirky is the author of a rather good book on the interwebs called ‘Here Comes Everybody’. And Twitter is, well, many things to many people – but last night it was a way for me to report and also tune into what others in the room were thinking.
Prof Shirky covered much of what is in the book (the paperback’s just out), including touching on the sea change happening in publishing right now. But last night he expressed little pity for the fall of newspapers:
‘Newpapers are panicking – I mean, 2009 is the year they realise the internet spells trouble for newspapers?!
‘The problems of newspapers are so much of their own making that it’s hard to show an ounce of pity… journalism was not aware of its business model [ie funded by advertising from the likes of M&S]
‘We have to find another way to subsidise journalism… [because] the gap between what journalism leaves and what bloggers pick up will not be filled.’
He cited the example I always use in the ‘what’s the difference between bloggers and journalists’ debate; that local reporters are the ones who go down to the city council house and report on/challenge/ask questions at all those little meetings where agendas are pushed through.
This beat is regularly covered by journalists, with the effect of it being a watchdog, and acting as checks and balances against local council corruption.
Interestingly, he also covered new internet tools and democracy, the rise of factionalism and issues of legitimacy.
On Change.gov, the official website of Barack Obama’s presidential transition project, he points out that the issue the American people most wanted Obama to act on was not Iraq, the collapse of the banks, economic crisis nor any other major pressing issue but the legalisation of marijuana (for medical purposes).
His 5-word summary of his book at the start of the talk was:
‘Group action just got easier.’
And so, people are organising and campaigning and directing their views thanks to new media tools – but, like journalists and the local council, there are currently no checks and no balancing mechanism to say when these views are legitimate, democratic and right to act on. He ended his speech with:
‘I think 2009 is the year we will make some momentous decisions about checks and balances.’
For all the negative press journalism has been getting, and for all its faults, it’s interesting to see it in these terms. As part of the fabric of a democracy and a force for policing local government. This won’t be news to regional journalists, of course, but it might be to parts of the blogosphere.
As for the future for journalism, and particularly the good work that it does, Clay Shirky’s view is that journalism will ‘move towards a more vigorous non-profit model’. The question, as ever, is who will pay?