Ecosystems and Journalism

I talk a lot about ecosystems in my work. Here’s why I think the word is so important for the future of journalism.

Humanity has learned that diverse ecosystems are more stable than ones that are less diverse. The dangers of monocultures are well understood despite our reliance on them in, among many other things, modern farming and finance. When society relies on a monoculture that fails, the results are catastrophic.

A diverse ecosystem features ongoing failure and success. Entire species come and go, but the impact of losing a single species in a trulty diverse ecosystem — however unfortunte for that species — is limited. In a diverse and vibrant capitalist economy, the failure of enterprises is tragic only for the specific constituencies of those enterprises, but what Schumpeter called “creative destruction,” assuming that we have fair and enforceable rules of the road for all, ensures the long-term sustainability of the economy.

The journalistic ecosystem of past half-century, like the overall media ecosystem, was dominated by a small number of giant companies. Those enterprises, aided by governmental policies and manufacturing-era efficiencies of scale, controlled the marketplace, and grew bigger and bigger.  The collision of Internet-fueled technology and traditional media’s advertising model was cataclysmic for the big companies that dominated.

But is it catastrophic for the communities and society they served? In the short term, it’s plainly problematic, at least when we consider Big Journalism’s role as a watchdog, though the dominant companies have served in that role inconsistently, at best, especially in recent years. But the worriers appear to assume that we can’t replace what we will lose. They have no faith in the restorative power of a diverse ecosystem, because they don’t know what it’s like to be part of one.

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