Another view of the future
Paul Gillen at B to B online has added his essay to the pile predicting the demise of newspapers, etc. What distinguishes his is not only the detailed dissection of the newspaper business model and why it won't work in the future, but also the provocative predictions he makes for libel law, reporting and editorial control (copy editors pay attention) and similar things.
A few excerpts (emphasis mine):
The sole advantage that newspapers have is their reach in local markets. Small businesses that sell aluminum siding, flowers and cleaning services have have few alternatives to newspapers for their ad dollars. That, too, is changing. The declining cost of electronic composition and offset printing is leading to resurgence of local newspapers and Web 2.0 technology is making it cheap for citizens to launch their own community websites. Search engine makers are figuring out how to provide value in local search. These forces are converging to attack newspapers' last refuge. ...
What emerges from the rubble of the newspaper industry will be a fresh, vibrant and very different kind of journalism. It will make a lot of traditionalists uncomfortable. It will force us to re-examine our assumptions about everything from readership to libel law. But it will ultimately be an evolution of the profession into something that is richer, more inclusive and much more dynamic than anything we have ever known. ...
[T]he new journalism will be based on an entirely different set of assumptions. Any report may be quickly and easily updated and corrected. Search engine results and referral links are the principal drivers of readership. Layout is almost irrelevant to a web site. Blogs have no hierarchy at all. Stories can be as long for a short as they need to be, or can even be composed of many links to other content. Stories may appear in many places at once and even in many forms, depending on how they are tagged. Readers are able to comment upon and contribute to articles. Graphics, audio and video illustrations are easily linked to text. If something is wrong, you can always go back and correct it.
In short, the online world challenges nearly every assumption of conventional newspapering. It will dictate a very different approach to journalism.
For one thing, the craft of journalism will evolve to include far more aggregation and organization that has in the past. Editors will assemble their reports from a vast library of resources located across the Internet. Some information will come from paid staff writers, others from freelancers and still more from reports and opinions published by independent third parties and even competitors. Editors will still have a critical role, but their value will increasingly be in assembling and organizing information for readers who don’t have the time to sort through the vast Web.
The craft of reporting will become faster and more iterative. Rumor, speculation and incomplete information will be published far more readily, on the assumption that errors can be corrected. Stories will, in essence, be built in real time and in full public view. Reporters will file copy directly to the Web, often without a review by an editor. Readers will be a central part of the process, correcting and comment upon articles as they are taking shape. Reporting will become, in effect, a community process.
This new model will be very disruptive and very controversial. The idea that a news organization would publish information it did not know to be true flies in the face of all of our expectations. The concept of actively involving readers - who have no formal relationship with the news organization - in the reporting process will be too much for some editors to accept. There will be hand-wringing over fears of libel suits and other litigation. It is going to be an unholy brawl.
Of course, we'll see how much of this actually happens -- very little, if the lawyers get their way from my discussions with members of the honorable bar.