The Internet didn’t just take advertising away from print publishers and advertisers—it also brought democratized information to all of us. Actual competition for journalism, not just revenue, began appearing. And here, too, the industry has been ill-prepared.
As newspapers were coming apart at the seams, many traditional journalists began fretting that journalism itself was at risk. Who would do the journalism if the established business model died? How would the public be informed?
The anguish and hand-wringing, of course, raised a couple of questions.
First, by what standard had traditional journalists done such a sterling job that they were irreplaceable? To be sure, there had been some superb reporting over the years; the best journalism was as good as it had ever been. But some of our top reporters had helped lead America into a war started under false pretenses. And they’d almost entirely missed the building financial bubble that nearly ruined the nation. Newspapers increasingly focused on celebrity and gossip. They pretended to find two sides to every story, even when one side was an outright lie. Was this a craft that deserved our unreserved faith?
Second, did the unquestionably hard economic times for the journalists’ employers mean that journalism itself would no longer exist if the employers disappeared? From my perspective, it seemed as though people working for traditional media companies were arguing that their enterprises had some near-divine right to exist. Not in the universe you and I inhabit!
I’m an optimist. I and others like me see renewal amid the destruction. We don’t worry so much about the supply of news and opinion, though we do recognize that a shifting marketplace for information—from monopoly and oligopoly to a new, competitive mediasphere—will be messy.
Count on this: Tomorrow’s media will be more diverse, by far, than today’s. We can imagine, therefore, a journalism ecosystem that’s a vital part of our expanded mediasphere and vastly healthier and more useful than the monocultural media of recent times—if we get it right. That we means all of us. Remember, Digital Age media are broadly distributed and participatory—broadly democratic.
For sure, we’re headed for a time of abundance, at least in quantity. In that abundance we’ll have plenty of quality, too, but it’ll be more difficult to sort out. To assure a continued supply of quality information, we have to address the other side of a classic economic and social equation: demand for information that’s reliable and trustworthy. That’s up to you and me.