Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Fallows has something to chew on
James Fallows, writing in the New York Times (reg. req.) this week, predicts The Twilight of the Information Middlemen. Debate him or not (and I agree with most of what he says), Fallows has some classic observations:

  • It's hard to value intellectual or creative effort.

  • "Information is both invaluable and impossible to value."

  • The result has been creation by middlemen of physical "products" that can be valued (books, newspapers, magazines, TV networks, etc.).

And the result of rapid technological change, he says, is massive disruption in this system. No longer do people need "aggregators." Which, again, is why we as a profession must take up this debate of what is journalism (not commodity information) worth?
Until now, the organizations many of us work for have "created" the value in what we do. But the secret that we sometimes don't want to acknowledge is that journalism, at its best, is a cottage industry -- dependent on one person and her or his ingenuity, pluck, luck and relationship with sources. There is a reason some of the best journalism today is being done by freelancers. However, most of their work still is being "valued" by how it is aggregated. If the aggregation goes away, then journalists themselves will increasingly have to deal with that question: "What is what I do worth?"

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